Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Directed (for some reason) by Bryan Singer

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Bohemian Rhapsody took a long time to get to the screen, mostly due, from what I can tell, to the push and pull between those who wanted to examine the true story behind Freddie Mercury and the band and those who sought to maintain a certain mystique to the whole thing.  The latter camp won, and they are Brian May and Roger Taylor, the two living band members who act as producers on the film.

This movie, though centered on Freddie Mercury, is very much the story May and Taylor want to tell.  It’s a biopic that ignores the depths of Mercury’s character and instead tells the same exact story as virtually every other nondescript biopic.  We see Freddie and the band meet, endure their first awkward performance, then watch as they are suddenly inspired to write any number of their hit songs.  We also have to sit through a scene in which the head of a label loudly insists that no one will ever listen to their six minute track “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  With the benefit of hindsight we get to laugh at this man’s naivety.

May and Taylor come out looking very good in this movie.  They are level-headed, intelligent, and the band eventually breaks up not because of them but because of Mercury’s own ego and subjugation to the slimy influence of one Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), a character so creepy, selfish and villainous that it immediately suggests there must be another side of the story.

The movie tries to explore Mercury as a person, though all it really says is that he craved the spotlight and was lonely when not on stage.  There is a scene halfway through the movie in which we travel through one of Mercury’s surreal, energetic house parties, but the movie asks us to see this as a sign of Mercury as a troubled man.  His band members will soon leave and insist that this isn’t who Mercury really is, that these partying ways are his way of acting out.

Bohemian Rhapsody is too clean of a movie, with too conventional of a narrative.  We learn nothing about what drives Mercury as a performer and how his sexuality plays into that.  He seems a larger than life, operatic figure in his own right, and yet this movie reduces him to just another singer with a good voice, caught up in the vices of fame and seeking only a companion to fill the void which the crowds can only temporarily take care of.

From what I can tell this wasn’t Freddie Mercury, but it’s the way the band, May and Taylor, want him to be remembered, as if he’s an animal only they could wrangle to make sure Queen had any staying power.

The movie celebrates Mercury as a performer but ignores him as a person and even suggests he was a bit of a screw up who needed the right influences around him to become who he eventually became.

It’s not that the rest of the band wasn’t very important to their success, they clearly were, but Mercury gets the short stick here, well he and John Deacon who is the butt of a number of jokes.

All this being said, I really enjoyed this movie.  I like all the songs, I think the performances were great, and the movie is wonderfully edited, creating a captivating rhythm that really benefits from the quality of the music being played.

So Bohemian Rhapsody is fun but safe, and it shouldn’t be this safe because Queen wasn’t such a safe band.  They took risks and were at times banned from tv stations, and the topic of Mercury’s sexuality sold many a magazine.

This movie should be an opera.  It clearly wants to relive the band’s greatest hits, and it’s already structured in such a way as to use these hit singles as turning points in the story. When they hit one wall, they write a great song, and suddenly the story moves forward in time to the next chapter.  The movie gets to relive these songs (though weirdly enough it never plays Bohemian Rhapsody in its entirety) and act as extended music videos for most of them.

This is definitely entertaining, but it could go even further.  I think Bohemian Rhapsody should have tried to do what it looks like the upcoming Elton John biopic will do, play as a surreal, musical fantasy of a movie.

So, this story of Freddie Mercury is pretty melodramatic.  It’s fun and serious, and there are abrupt tonal shifts between the two, but I think this tone would work if the whole film was structured like an opera.  It could be based around this hit singles and build to a crescendo involving “Bohemian Rhapsody” and such magical realism would make those factual errors less egregious.  The deviations from reality only matter when the movie presents itself as reality, as this one does.

Again, fun movie for fans of the band, aka people who may already know the information which is left out or rewritten, but it may not work for people who don’t know so much about Queen and Freddie Mercury but want to.

Up Next: They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018), After the Storm (2016), Hollow Man (2000)

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