Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I Want It All

Film: Bohemian Rhapsody
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve gotten a bit of pressure from a number of people around me to finally get around to Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m not always a fan of biopics and while Queen was a great band, they’re one of those bands that, as much as I like a lot of their songs, I never thought to buy any of their albums (and yes, I’m old enough that I can say “albums”). I was also a bit disturbed at the bizarre prosthetics that Rami Malek was evidently forced to wear in his role as Freddie Mercury. I realize that Mercury had big teeth, but Malek spends a good portion of this film looking like a Dr. Seuss character.

Anyway, I finally got around to this and I’m still kind of formulating an opinion on it. I think, in the main, that I liked it, but there are some problems that I have with it. We’ll certainly get to that by the end of this, but I want to start by saying that I was probably wrong as a young’un to have not bought any Queen discs. One of the better features of Bohemian Rhapsody is a reminder of just how good a lot of their songs really are, and how many of them they had.

Anyway, the film is almost a biopic of Freddie Mercury with a generous slice of “this is actually about the band” thrown in. What I mean is that Mercury is clearly the central figure of the film and we’re going to follow him for most of the film, but there will be moments when we deal more with the other members of the band. These, however, will be few and far between as we are much more likely to be dealing with the excesses of Mercury’s huge personality.

That huge personality creates one of the more interesting aspects of the film. Early on, we see Mercury as a sort of larger-than-life character, someone who refuses to be constrained by the world that he exists in. He breaks out of his straight-laced family environment to blossom on stage as, well, a character of his own name and creation. His affair with girlfriend-turned-fiancée-turned-friend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) gives us a familiar boy/girl chemistry early on that becomes a sort of needy friendship as Mercury comes out of the closet, at least to himself.

And eventually, this leads to Mercury becoming more and more built up in his own mind and attempting a solo career, alienating his bandmates and friends. And, of course, this happens with the realization that he is dying of AIDS. The film culminates in the (honestly—I remember this) triumphant Queen performance at Live Aid. This is not a spoiler. It’s clearly hinted at in the opening moments of the film, and it’s not like Freddie Mercury died right after the performance—he lived another six or so years. But it is, kind of, the culmination of the story the movie wants to tell. Boy meets band, boy loses band, boy comes back to band almost too late.

One thing Bohemian Rhapsody does really well is mimic the actual members of Queen. The rest of the band—Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) look staggeringly like their real-life counterparts. Lee in particular looks like the producers somehow traveled through time to collect a circa-1980 Brian May to have him work in the film. I’m not sure how they did it, but it’s uncanny.

There are a few good jokes here as well. The best is that EMI producer Ray Foster is played by an almost unrecognizable Mike Meyers who loses the band over a conflict with the song Bohemian Rhapsody. He suggests another song or two for the single from the album, saying that this is a song that kinds wouldn’t sit in their car and bang their heads to. The joke, of course, is that Meyers was almost single-handedly responsible for a resurgence Queen fandom in 1992 with the head-banging-to-Bohemian-Rhapsody scene in Wayne’s World. This is not a fanciful story—the song returned to the charts after Meyers’s movie released and topped at number 2, several places higher than its original release.

Rami Malek won the Best Actor Oscar for this role, and there’s a part of me that thinks he may have won specifically because he was able to speak through the ridiculous prosthetic. He certainly gives us a warts-and-all depiction of Mercury, who does not come off too well in the film. Mercury is depicted here as a selfish, vainglorious prima donna who made the lives of a lot of people worse for his own pleasure. I think the reality might go there a bit, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Mercury himself had been ill-used by others. This is also hinted at in the film. For what it’s worth, the other members of Queen come out of this pretty well in that regard. But it does feel...as if the redemption is rushed and cheap for a movie that's this long. Freddie's years of excess and hurting others and disappointing his father specifically appears to be suddenly cured by his participation in Live Aid and not accepting pay for it--somehow doing the thing that virtually everyone in that position did without question is living up to his father's philosophy.

I have to say that I didn’t love the movie and I didn’t love this cinematic depiction of the lead character. But I was reminded of just how good Queen really was and how many of their songs are what the kids today would call a “banger.” Seriously, they kicked a whole lot of ass a whole lot of the time.

Why to watch Bohemian Rhapsody: Seriously, Queen put out a lot of great friggin’ songs.
Why not to watch: It’s not at all the movie that you expect it to be.


  1. I've been watching it in scattered bits for a while as I just watched it today and... I love Queen. I love Freddie Mercury and I love those songs but... GODDAMN... that was one of the worst movies I had ever seen. It was filled with so much bullshit and inaccuracies about Mercury and Queen. It pissed me off immensely and it does a lot to disservice how good those songs were and how great Queen was as a band. Fuck Bryan Singer!

    1. So much of this felt like "Here's a short vignette of how Brian May wrote We Will Rock You. Here's a little clip about John Deacon writing Another One Bites the Dust."

      And yeah--so many of these songs are bulletproof. You can't kill these songs, but at times it felt like the movie tried to.

  2. I enjoyed it and loved Malak's performance (and of course the music) but I agree that the inaccuracies and forced drama were annoying and, dammit, unnecessary. They really didn't need to "Hollywood up" the story of Queen for it to be interesting. They showed a real lack of faith in the source material and that irritates me no end.

    1. I think Malek did what he could with the role.

      So often stories don't need to be sexied up, and yet here we are, just like usual.

  3. I love Queen's music but Ugh! This thing was such a patched up mess of squandered chances and after it was over I couldn't believe Malek won an Oscar for what to me was an average performance and a lip synced one to boot!!

    I didn't bother with it in the theatre, it just looked so meh, but watched it about a week before I went to see Rocketman which, while not perfect, was so much of what I had hoped Bohemian Rhapsody would be and most definitely wasn't. What was so disappointing about that was with Malek's win Taron Egerton's really worthy performance doesn't stand a chance of even a nomination I suspect. And despite being a much better more interesting film the movie suffered from a Johnny Come Lately ennui and didn't do nearly the business of Rhapsody.

    1. I've seen four of the five Best Actor nominations from this year, and it's kind of a lackluster crowd, to be honest. I'm not sure where I'll go with it when I get there.

      I agree that this story could have been a lot more than it was. There are some impressive parts--the Live Aid sequence really is pretty good and accurate--but a lot of the rest of it doesn't seem to be.

  4. I actually liked the movie immensely. Walking out of the cinema my wife and I agreed it was the best movie we had seen in the cinema for years, though that may say more about our luck with the cinema lately.
    It was only afterwards I learned how doctored the story was to the extent that it was hugely misleading, certainly in the later part. With songs this strong I do not think this was necessary.

    1. I should probably admit at some point that my younger daughter is obsessed with this movie--she saw it multiple times in theaters.

      I will never understand the need to sexy-up stories that don't need it.