Let’s talk about Bohemian Rhapsody.
Oh it was fun to wake up the day after the Golden Globes. While I don’t pay much attention to the awards ceremonies anymore, I had a quick look over the news and saw that Bohemian Rhapsody had won Best Picture. And I moved on with my day. Best Movie in the Musical or Comedy Category doesn’t really matter really. However when the outrage kept on going, I looked into the news and discovered that it was not in the Best Picture for Musical or Comedy category, but in the drama one. Ie, the serious category. Seriously! I was shocked too. But is it worthy of that and the Best Picture nomination at the Oscars?
This is the story of Queen, but more notably Freddie Mercury. Because let’s face it, while you may care about Brian May, you really don’t give a crap about the other two. I bet you can’t even name them. But yes, this follows Freddie Mercury right from the formation of Queen to the famous Live Aid performance.
So let’s be clear why the outrage exists about Bohemian Rhapsody being so prominent in awards season. The original, and credited, director of the movie is Bryan Singer, the man behind many of the X-Men movies. And he was accused of some very bad stuff at the start of the year. This is on top of a load of other accusations that have been following Singer around for decades. So yes, in an era of Mr Too, anything that could praise Singer is going to cause a fuss. It is also worth mentioning that Singer was fired from the movie due to clashes with lead actor Rami Malek with Dexter Fletcher coming in to finish up.Many had a problem with Fletcher not getting a credit despite making sure this movie could be released.
The film starts at breakneck speed with Freddie Mercury joining the band, the band being signed and having a number of decent hits. This bit is very rushed as you can tell the movie wants to get on with other matters. Nothing of note really happens because every scene is completed as quickly as possible because it’s plot stuff that needs to happen but not what anyone making the movie was interested in. It’s a really weak start but you do see Malek growing into his performance as Freddie Mercury which we’ll talk about a bit more later.
The first half of the movie is mostly about Queen creating music and battles with the label. This is a mixed bag. The part where they create Bohemian Rhapsody is great. It feels organic, the chemistry between the characters is fun to watch and there’s some truly inspired moments. As it’s set on a farm, we get standard farm establishing shots. One of them is a rooster, which then loudly sings GALILEO! It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time because it’s so out of nowhere. But then the creation of the other songs leave something to be desired. It always seems to be some members of Queen having an argument which then stops because one of them is playing a riff of one of their iconic songs. The others then say it’s genius and the full song plays. It feels really unnatural and it gets tedious after a while. That said, it could be very realistic for all I know about the musical process.
As a little break, here’s some trivia. This movie was in development hell for a while because the man originally pegged to play Freddie Mercury, Sacha Baron Cohen, dropped out. Cohen left the movie because he felt like the living Queen members were interfering too much with the script. For instance, they wanted the last act of the movie to be Queen doing really well after Freddie Mercury’s death. You know, all those famous Queen songs and performances after Mercury’s unfortunate passing. Thankfully, that part is no longer in but you can see where their fingerprints are all over the movie. The fact all the members of Queen are flawless, charming guys is one of them. Mercury in this movie is flawed, it’s what makes him interesting. But none of his band mates are imperfect because how could they let that happen? It creates a mistrust. The movie portrays Freddie’s boyfriend as a Yoko Ono figure. It’s good for the plot but I simply don’t trust that being the real story because I know this movie is basically written by those guys.
It’s time for me so start saying nice things about the movie because it is still decent. And back to Rami Malek’s performance we go because it is brilliant. You can complain about a lot of the nominations and awards Bohemien Rhapsody has got over awards season but you can’t argue with all the plaudits Malek has been getting. He is truly brilliant in this role. He is great fun when he is playing Mercury at his wildest, this egomaniac who has all the talent in the world to back up his bravado. You can believe that he can show up to a concert, steal the show then do a pithy one-liner about how amazing he is. But he can also do the more serious stuff. The realisation that he is gay, the discovery that he has HIV, he does the tough, emotional stuff great too. Rami Malek is only really known for I, Robot, a well regarded show that I haven’t seen. This performance though makes sure that when that shows, if it hasn’t already, Malek will be in movies for years to come.
But the highlight of the movie is the closing sequence. This is when Queen take to the stage at Live Aid, arguably the greatest rock performance of all time. And boy do they give it justice. Malek captures the essence of Freddie Mercury in this sequence and you cannot take your eyes off of him as he rattles through some of Queen’s biggest hits. They filmed the full 20 minute set and they could have just plopped the entire thing in and I’d have been happy. All the live performances in the movie are great but this part shows you why Queen were so beloved and why Mercury is often seen as the greatest front man of all time. This sequence is so good I do understand all the praise. You do end up forgetting all the problems and foibles when you finish off with something so spectacular.
But I review the whole movie, not just the last 20 minutes. And Bohemian Rhapsody has way too many faults to be recommended. It rushes through any scene it doesn’t find interesting itself, it can be quite tedious at times and there’s this inescapable feeling that parts of it have been made just to pander to the egos of the other Queen members. It’s still decent and watchable because Rami Malek is something else throughout and the live performances have been made with enthusiasm and excitement. But I have this feeling that if someone had told Brian May to go away and look at the stars for a bit longer, we could have had a more honest and better movie.