This winter, 20th Century Fox’s Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” became a calamity. Director Bryan Singer reportedly clashed with star Rami Malek, halting production by going MIA from the London set after Thanksgiving. Singer’s firing was announced December 5, two days before he was hit with his latest sexual assault lawsuit, from a man who claims he was victimized as a teen.
Yet replacement director Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle”) must have restored the studio’s faith: The film’s Christmas 2018 release date was moved up seven weeks, and the musical was a showpiece of its Las Vegas CinemaCon presentation. However, not only was there no mention of Singer, Fox also ignored Fletcher — staying silent on the film’s director at all, much less who will receive final credit.
Nevertheless, Fox is so confident in the finished product that, in a tribute to its 83-year-history, it included a shot of Malek in character alongside Henry Fonda in “The Grapes of Wrath, Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” and Kate Winslet in“Titanic.” And the National Association of Theatre Owners returned to Caesars Palace after the presentation, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” provided exit music at full volume.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” tracks the rise of the Mercury-fronted Queen during the ’70s and ’80s, culminating in their set at Live Aid, voted first in a BBC News poll of the greatest live performances of all time. The footage showed Malek transformed — fake teeth, Spandex jumpsuits, and all — into a glam-rock god.
In the the young Mercury catches a show, compliments the band, learns they need a lead singer, and volunteers himself. When the new outfit can’t get their songs on the radio, they get experimental and start utilizing everything from percussive toilet paper rolls to Mercury’s falsetto.
When a record executive laments the length of a submitted track, Mercury scoffs, “I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever.” Somewhere, between Mercury’s bedroom daydreams and a cat that skitters across piano keys, the band finds their audience, and with it the excesses of fame. Friends warn Mercury that he needs to curb his breakneck lifestyle, and he implies that he knows he’s not long for this world. Six years after Live Aid, Mercury succumbed to HIV/AIDS at age 45.
Producer Graham King was emotional when introducing Malek and the film, saying, “This has been the best part of 10 years in the making.”
Added Malek, “When I got this role, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this could be a career-defining performance.’ And about two minutes later, I thought, ‘This could be a career killer.'” Malek, best known to audiences for his Emmy-lauded work on USA Network’s “Mr. Robot,” Malek said Mercury was “the greatest performer that has existed.”
He continued, “As an actor, you look at the humanity of someone, the struggles that he overcame throughout his life. Throughout the course of the film, you’ll learn so much about him that gives the way he sings the music and plays that music — it fills it with pain and beauty.”
Producers include two-time Oscar-winner Robert De Niro, and Queen members Roger Taylor and Brian May (who told Malek his portrayal brought him to tears). No mention was made of the film’s director shuffle, or who will receive the final credit.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” lands in theaters November 2.