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Movie Review

Farrokh Bulsara didn't seem destined for greatness. The odds were stacked against him.

Farrokh was born in Zanzibar to Indo-Parsi parents who practiced Zoroastrianism. After his parents immigrated from Africa to England in his late teens, he drifted around the periphery of London's burgeoning rock scene in the late '60s. "Paki," people'd sneer disgustedly, thinking he was Pakistani. Farrokh's protruding buck teeth earned more mockery. His shy, effeminate mannerisms made him an easy target.

But Farrokh had a secret weapon: his voice.

One night in 1970 after a band dubbed Smile watches its lead singer stomp off, the young immigrant offers his services. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor scoff.

Then he sings. And gets the job. And adopts a new stage name: Freddie Mercury.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And the history of Queen as it unspools from 1970 to 1985 is as dramatic as it is tragic—especially when it comes to Freddie Mercury's insatiable desire for love, a quest that consumed his life.

Positive Elements

Though Freddie Mercury's passions trend in self-destructive directions, his talent, drive and intensity cannot be denied. Those qualities fuel Queen's rise, propelling the group past many obstacles.

Though Queen's members experience tensions at times, they generally exhibit deep loyalty. Freddie eventually realizes that his manipulative personal manager, Paul Prenter, has sought to divide him from the band. So Freddie fires Paul and tries to repair the damage that Freddie realizes he's done to the other three members of Queen (the aforementioned Brian May and Roger Taylor, as well as bassist John Deacon).

Another hugely significant relationship in Freddie's life is Mary Austin, whom he meets early in his career. They fall in love, and Freddie writes the song "Love of My Life" for her. He proposes and slips a wedding ring on her finger, though they never legally tie the knot (although that point is never really clarified one way or the other in the film itself). Freddie tells her that when he performs, "I'm exactly the person I was always made to be. I'm not afraid of anything." Then he adds, "The only other time I feel that is when I'm with you. You're the love of my life."

Even as Freddie's attraction to men becomes more and more apparent, the two still share a bond of affection and commitment. Freddie eventually tells someone, "Mary knows me in a way no one else ever will."

Freddie has a complicated, painful relationship with his father. The older man tersely tells a young Freddie: "Good thoughts. Good words. Good deeds. That's what you should aspire to." Teen Freddie mocks his father's earnestness. But 15 years later, when Freddie invites his parents to watch his Live Aid performance on TV, Freddie reiterates those words: "Good thoughts. Good words. Good deeds. Just like you taught me, Papa." By film's end, Freddie and his father are able to express love for each other, something that’s been missing for their entire relationship.

Spiritual Content

Freddie's father outlines the history of the Parsi people to Mary, saying that they fled from Persia (present-day Iran) to India to escape Muslim persecution. We hear one reference to Zoroastrianism. Freddie sarcastically uses the phrases "speak in bloody tongues" and "the truth will set you free."

While complaining about a racy video that's been banned by MTV in the U.S., someone quips, "It's America: They're Puritans in public, perverts in private." Freddie jokes to Paul that he should invite priests to a wild party.

Paul talks about the challenges of growing up "queer" as a Irish Catholic.

Sexual Content

Freddie and Mary fall in love. A scene in which she's buttoning her shirt perhaps suggests they've just had sex. In another post-coital moment, Mary's wrapped up in a blanket and Freddie's shirtless on a couch. (The members of the band show up at that moment, prompting Mary to pull the blanket up further to cover herself.) The pair kisses passionately, and Freddie's shown on top of her in one scene (though they're mostly clothed).

But from then on, Freddie increasingly gravitates toward men. He and a truck driver swap leering glances. Freddie's manager, Paul, is attracted to him and eventually shares a passionate kiss with him. (Paul clearly wants to go further, but it's not clear from the film whether that ever happens.)

Though he seems hesitant to embrace his same-sex attraction at first, Freddie eventually does—at least in private. Early on, Paul finds men for Freddie to sleep with. (We see one such partner in his underwear on a hotel suite couch the next morning.) We also see Freddie going into a red-light gay bar. He throws ever more flamboyant parties, mostly attended by gay men (two of whom kiss in the background of one scene.) It's implied that Freddie is increasingly reckless in his promiscuity. At parties, men grab at each other's backsides and trade lustful looks. Further sexual behavior is implied, but not graphically shown in this PG-13 movie.

Other members of Queen are shown with fawning female fans, but their implied sexual antics don't get much screen time. Indeed, the band's other members grow weary of Freddie's anything-goes bacchanals. Freddie, for his part, is often shirtless, and he tends to dress in feminine-looking outfits.

Despite his promiscuity, which by now has become the subject of tabloid exposés, Freddie won't admit to his homosexuality in public—even when a female reporter aggressively tries to out him at a press conference.

Freddie's health begins to decline before the Live Aid concert in 1985. He's shown getting an AIDS diagnosis (a death sentence at the time). Before Queen's Live Aid reunion, he tells the band that he has AIDS (the timing of which is one of the film's fictionalized elements, an issue I've discussed more in a blog here). But Freddie refuses to let the disease define him: "I don't have time to be their victim, their AIDS poster boy, their cautionary tale. I decide what I'm going to be."

Freddie ends up with a partner named Jim Hutton around the time of Live Aid, and the credits tell us that the two lived together until the singer's death in 1991. (Mercury introduces Jim to his family before the concert.) We see them kiss. It's suggested that if Freddie had been able to come to terms with his homosexual identity sooner, perhaps he wouldn't have been so promiscuous. On the flip side, Mercury's promiscuity is also largely depicted as an out-of-control compulsion that doesn't satisfy or fulfill him for most of the movie.

Freddie tells Queen's drummer, "Roger, there's only room in this band for one hysterical queen." Jokes and gags hinting at his same-sex attraction turn up regularly. We hear a few allusions to heterosexual activity, too. Freddie describes Mary as "an epic shag."

Queen shoots a video in which all of them are dressed up in drag. In another live TV performance, a camera focuses on Freddie's crotch as he gyrates, prompting a producer to tell the cameraman, "Come up, above the waist." We hear a portion of the song "Fat Bottomed Girls."

Mary eventually comes to terms with Freddie's same-sex attraction and moves on with another guy named David, with whom she has a child.

We hear multiple crude references to the male anatomy. Female fans of the band dress revealingly, with some seen in underwear at a party. Freddie makes an extremely nasty statement about a female reporter's anatomy in response to her aggressive and antagonistic questions about his sexual preferences.

Violent Content

As AIDS tightens its grip on Freddie, we see him cough up blood. Freddie threatens a manager he's just fired, telling him to get out of a limo during a rainstorm: "Out or I'll kill you!" he screams.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word, half a dozen s-words. Jesus' name is misused once. We hear a few uses each of "a--," "a--hole," "d--n," "b--chy," "p-ss" and "h---." "F-g" is uttered at least once. We also hear the British vulgarities "b-llocks" and "bloody." There are at least three crude references to the male anatomy.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Band members drink various alcoholic beverages throughout. Drugs are mentioned, we see Freddie take some unnamed pills. Cocaine is visible at a party.

As Freddie becomes more promiscuous, his drinking and drug use accelerate dangerously. Freddie often smokes, too. At one such wild party, Freddie profanely invites his guests to get intoxicated.

Other Negative Elements

While Freddie and Mary's loyalty is admirable in some ways, it's also deeply dysfunctional, and Freddie's narcissism comes at a great cost to Mary. She ends up moving into a mansion next door to his, for instance. Sometimes Freddie calls her late at night, seeking the kind of emotionally intimate conversation a husband and wife might share—but it painfully reminds Mary that they're not a couple.

Freddie's personal manager, Paul, increasingly tries to control the singer's life, threatening to blackmail Mercury with incriminating photos and withholding important information from him. It's very clear that Paul is jealous of the deep, sincere affection Freddie repeatedly vocalizes for Mary. In one conversation, we also hear how Paul's own same-sex attraction has alienated him from his father. "I think my father would rather see me dead than let me be who I am," Paul says.

Conclusion

"Is this the real life?/Is this just fantasy?"

Those harmonized lines at the outset of Queen's operatic, melancholy masterpiece "Bohemian Rhapsody" seem apropos here, because this biopic delivers both.

The fantasy part chronicles Queen's rise to superstardom, and the rock star excesses that come with it. World tours. Immense fame and wealth. Concerts with hundreds of thousands of fans singing along. Indeed, Queen fans watching this film may well find the hairs on the back of their neck standing up during the movie's 20-minute climax at Live Aid in 1985.

Yup, that's the fantasy part, the dream of every would-be musician who's ever longed to make it as big as Queen did.

But then there's that pesky "real life" stuff. Despite his prodigious vocal talent, Freddie Mercury's real life was a mess. The film depicts his longing for lasting love, suggesting that Freddie's rocky relationship with his father resulted in an emotional vacuum he sought to fill through increasingly reckless choices.

For a brief moment, his romance with Mary Austin hinted at the fulfillment of that desire. But the movie suggests that Mercury's attraction to men—and his own tortured relationship with his homosexual identity, which he refused to publically acknowledge even when everyone already knew his "secret"—torpedoed any hope of lasting intimacy with Mary.

And for much of the rest of his life, that glimpse of wholeness with Mary haunted Mercury, as he compulsively pursued one anonymous sexual experience after another.

Mercury's insatiability is inescapable here, even if the film manages to dial it down to PG-13 levels that imply rather than gaze openly at Mercury's infamously fleshly indulgences. Mercury's same-sex attraction isn't glorified here as much as it's shown to be an emotionally (and physically) destructive influence. Even Slate reviewer Jeffrey Bloomer noticed something similar, writing, "The Queen biopic turns the singer’s complicated life into a surprisingly puritanical redemption story."

But …

Bohemian Rhapsody ultimately veers from that pseudo-cautionary tale trajectory, with Mercury ending up in—it's suggested—a happy, monogamous relationship with Jim Hutton for the final six years of his life. The implication? If only Mercury had come to terms with his sexual identity earlier, perhaps he could avoided the rampant promiscuity that ultimately led to him contracting AIDS.

Bohemian Rhapsody strives mightily to end on a high, inspirational note, depicting Mercury's decision to return once more to the stage despite his terminal diagnosis as a brave and triumphant one. On some levels, perhaps it succeeds.

But I couldn't help but feel that this biopic ultimately (and perhaps unintentionally) depicts the outcome of Freddy Mercury's choices as a tragedy—a tragedy largely born out of a fractured relationship with a father who didn't know how to love and accept a son who was so wildly different than what he expected. And a tragedy that still includes plenty of content, even if sanitized to PG-13 levels.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury; Adam Rauf as young Freddie Mercury; Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin; Gwilym Lee as Brian May; Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor; Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon; Aidan Gillen as John Reid; Tom Hollander as Jim Beach; Allen Leech as Paul Prenter; Mike Myers as Ray Foster; Aaron McCusker as Jim Hutton; Dermot Murphy as Bob Geldof; Meneka Das as Jer Bulsara; Ace Bhatti as Bomi Bulsara

Director

Bryan Singer ( )

Distributor

20th Century Fox

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

November 2, 2018

On Video

February 12, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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