Normally, I don’t like to take too much notice of critical ratings before I go and see a film. I prefer not to be affected by what other people think. But the mixed reaction to Bohemian Rhapsody did concern me before I saw it. All of my friends who’d seen it had aid it was worth watching, which went along with the majority of fan feedback. However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that so many critics were disappointed. This was one of those films that should have been guaranteed. A biopic of one of the greatest British rock bands with the talented Rami Malik playing the role of Freddie Mercury and directed by Bryan Singer. It should have been perfect but, as we know, the film making process was a huge struggle. Not only was Rami the last in a fairly long list of actors accepting to play Freddie but there were script problems and Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher at the last-minute. Singer was reportedly difficult to work with so was thrown off the project with about 3 weeks to go. Talk about drama behind the scenes, eh! So, with all that in mind, it felt like the critical response could have something to it. Meaning I went into this film kind of expecting the worst. But, considering it got a Best Picture nomination, I had to give it a go.
I don’t really think I ever became a fan of Queen in the sense that I chose to like them. I just grew up with their music always playing in my house. My older sister was certainly a fan and, being a typical younger sister, I would steal them whenever I could. So I’ve always loved Queen. Or, at least, I’ve always loved Queen apart from a dark time during my teenage years when I told people the band was shit because I was trying to be annoyingly indie and pretentious. But I try not to think about teenage Laura. She was a fucking moron who cared too much about what other people thought about her. 30-year-old Laura doesn’t give a shit about what people think. Unfortunately, she’s still a huge moron but we can’t have everything. At least 30-year-old Laura can happily go and see this film.
A film that chronicles the life of Freddie Mercury and the rest of his band mates. It starts pre-Queen and ends up with the band’s triumphant set during Live Aid 1985. So, I have to say first and foremost, that I ended up liking this film more than I expected. I went in expecting to be a little annoyed by it but found it to be an enjoyable enough film. It goes through all of the band’s biggest hits and we see Rami and co. relive some of their finest performances. It’s a fun and shiny look back through the greatest hits of a very popular rock band and Rami Malik completely nails the performance of Freddie. All of the positive feedback he’s been getting is well deserved. He inhibits the role and channels everything we recognise of Freddie as a performer. It’s uncanny. And, in a way, he probably does deserve the Best Actor nomination but I don’t think he should/will win. Because, ultimately, the film lets him down.
As much as I liked Bohemian Rhapsody it did leave me feeling a bit cold. It feels very impersonal and super contrived. I know the band were heavily involved in the making of the film, which is why Sacha Baron Cohen took himself off the project. And, it does feel as if their influence has had a knock-on effect. This is the story of Queen and, more importantly, of Freddie Mercury but it’s definitely shown through rose-tinted glasses. It’s all very jolly, high energy, and musical but there isn’t enough of the other side of Queen. The other side of Freddie. The dark side is glossed over horribly. The rest of the band are portrayed as far more saintly than they should be (Roger Taylor and Brian May excusing themselves from a party they were known to have really enjoyed for example. And Freddie’s private life is kind of skirted over.
I mean this is the man who wrote the song Don’t Stop Me Now as a sort of anthem to his hedonistic lifestyle. The man who hid his sexuality in plain sight as he cavorted on stage on amazing costumes. He enjoyed his life and he had a wild time. He was never sorry about who he was and he went into everything willingly. However, this film presents him as way more naive than he was. The Freddie of the film is introduced to the world of orgies and S&M by the villain of the piece: Paul Prenter, Queen’s personal manager and, later, Freddie’s lover. In real-life, Prenter sold stories of Freddie’s sex life to the press so it’s clear to see why he’s painted in such an evil way but, surely, we can’t be willing to believe Freddie was coerced into it?
Freddie Mercury was a great man and a fantastic entertainer. Though he was always secretive about his personal life, it was always plain to see. He enjoyed his lifestyle and willingly engaged in all sorts of behaviour. Bohemian Rhapsody is so keen to present a polite and edited version of the truth instead of showing the man to be who he was: someone who was unashamed to be who he wanted to be. All of the dodgy stuff is glossed over and stuffed into cute montages. There is no focus on his drinking, drugs, or his battle with HIV. It’s all there but blurred by the live performances. His relationship with Jim Hutton, the man he spent the last part of his life with, is left until the final few minutes and the major focus is on his relationship with Mary Austin. None of this feels like a fitting tribute to the man it purports to focus on.
Instead, this feels like a greatest hits album with a few visuals. This film didn’t really want to be a biopic of Freddie Mercury. It wanted to recreate the joy and fun that people experienced at Queen gigs. It is all about the energy and the grand visuals. I admit that the CGI of Live Aid is remarkable and breathtaking but it’s too little too late. It’s caught up in something that is just a bit silly. My annoyance at this film can be summed up by the reference that Mike Myer’s character makes to Wayne’s World. The camera focuses on his face for a little too long just to hammer the point home. This in-joke isn’t necessary. It adds nothing to the narrative but indulges one of the people making the film. Bohemian Rhapsody is a film like the song it took its title from. Impressive in its own way but there are so many other songs you’d rather listen to.