“Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018)
Running Time: 134 minutes
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Featuring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech and Mike Myers
John Reid:“So, tell me. What makes Queen any different from all of the other wannabe rockstars I meet?”
Freddie Mercury:“Tell you what it is, Mr. Reid. Now we’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for the other misfits. They’re the outcasts, right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”
This week sees the release on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K of one of the biggest box office successes of last year in “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) which prior to its release looked like it was going to be a huge misfire both critically and commercially, however what has happened since its release reads like an actual Hollywood fairy-tale for almost everybody involved, except maybe disgraced the director Bryan Singer. There was so much going against this movie before its release, the original director was fired by the studio on the main stars say so, the first trailer had been met with consternation as it seemed to play down Mercury’s homosexuality, the early reviews were terrible and a variety of other issues to many to go into here, this all seemed to mean the movie was heading for a swift release and to be consigned to ignominy. However what actually happened was that worldwide audiences embraced “Bohemian Rhapsody”, like no musical before, to the tune of over US$850 million not only making its money back but being universally enjoyed by general audience, not only that it has won many awards, with it being nominated for no less than five Academy Awards and possibly being the favourite for Best Actor for star Rami Malek, who so far this awards season has pretty much been cleaning up.
Interestingly like many films, especially recent ones there is a sharp divide between how critics have reviewed “Bohemian Rhapsody” and how audiences have not only reacted but also have gone to cinemas in droves to experience it, which is a conundrum that has followed it into awards season, forcing a populist movie that is flawed into the hunt for Academy Awards, with a high probability that it will win one of the big six awards. This divisive nature of audiences and critics is nothing new but with the advent of social media this fracturing is becoming more apparent and public, as with this, as well as another high profile movie “Venom” (2018) which was eviscerated by critics but went onto make US$900 million dollars and will spawn at least one sequel. However what is different here is that the main reasons why “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not a great film is that is has so much revisionist history attached to its plot, that it may be the first ‘fake news’ movie of our times, and the fact that there has been a splintering of opinion between the ‘establishment’ and the ‘common people’ may actually help explain how the world is going right wing, how fantasy is replacing reality and how when the truth does not fit a narrative then a lie is the next best thing. This is a kind of biopic but it has been created through the eyes of two member’s of the band, Queen, who have rewritten history to such an extent that the character of Freddie Mercury comes off as a caricature that is so broad as if to be a straight mans version of a closeted Gay man, not only that but they are at pains to point out minute aspects of certain music or events so that they receive credit for certain ideas, it is just ridiculous. The other person that is absent from the credits and may as well be absent from the movie is bassist John Deacon, who, once Mercury died dropped out of public life and did not perform within the band (after the Mercury tribute concert), here he seems to be punished for that decision as even when he is onscreen is portrayed as an idiot or untalented whelp, which shows he was the only one of the three with a drop of integrity even as Brian May and Roger Taylor attempted to keep Queen going in what I consider to be in bad taste.
Bryan Singer has directed “Bohemian Rhapsody”, at least up until two weeks before filming wrapped, as he was fired and replaced by Englishmen Dexter Fletcher who completed filming. Apparently Singer was a fan of Queen and wanted to tell the story of Mercury as a closeted Gay man who eventually would die due to complications of HIV. Its fairly obvious that to make a movie about Queen and/or Freddie Mercury any filmmaker was going to need to be able to use their music which is where May and Taylor enter and were able to alter what the movie was going to be about, how the narrative was going to unfold and how everyone was going to be portrayed. There is no doubt in my mind that the entire movie has been controlled by two producers, May and Taylor, because they held a Trump card, the music, they were both able to act like Trump, creating the past in their own image, controlling the writer and director to such an extent that much of what we see has to be treated as fiction. On the brightside, however, there is a plethora of music used in the movie as well as devoting the final fifteen minutes of the movie to recreating the Live Aid performance that helped cement Queen in the minds of many fans for years to come, it may instigated the tour that followed a few years later. This final part of the movie is actually the centrepiece of the movie, it is moving, powerful, a revelation and gives star Rami Malek a literal stage to shine on to portray Mercury as one of the greatest showmen in Rock and Roll, ever.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” begins in 1970, Farrokh Bulsara, an Indian-British Parsi college student and baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, watches a local band who he has been following for a while, named Smile, perform at a nightclub. After the show, he meets Smile guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, and offers to replace their singer Tim Staffell, who had just quit earlier that night. With the addition of bassist John Deacon, the band – now known as Queen – play gigs across Britain until they sell their van to produce their debut album. Their musical style lands them a contract with EMI Records. At the same time, Farrokh legally changes his name, now going by Freddie Mercury and becomes engaged to Biba shop assistant Mary Austin. The album hits the charts in America, and, during the band’s U.S. tour, Freddie begins questioning his sexuality. This is the jumping off point for the movie, it is actually as formulaic as any movie about musical personalities have ever been, however what is unique about the movie and Queen is the music which sounds fantastic to this day.
The stopping point on any possible Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic was who would play the outlandish as well as unique looking star. Over the years many were rumoured as well as cast and then changed. With the casting of Rami Malek many were curious as the only high profile project he had been involved in was the successful television show “Mr Robot” (2015-present), however once the first trailers arrived it was obvious he was going to be a good fit. What the producers and directors have wisely chosen to accept is that no one can sound like Mercury so Malek lip syncs his way throughout the movie, so he just has to do a fair imitation of the star in his movements and voice and for the most part he exceeds expectations which is one of the reasons he has been winning so many awards for the part, all well deserved. Wisely the movie has cast two fantastic character actors in minor support role in Aidan Gillen and Tom Hollander who are both so experienced they know exactly what movie they are in. However for me the standout is Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin Mercury’s closest confidant, who brings what is a thankless role to the screen in a way that honours not only the woman but their relationship as well, which was possibly Mercury’s most important in the end, she is possibly his living legacy and one that has gone unheralded as to the part it played in his life and during his final years. To be honest the actors playing the rest of Queen are adequate, they are obviously doing what they have been allowed to do, they offer little in the way of depth which means they have been short-changed but this movie covers so much ground that it really would be difficult to do anything else which is a lost opportunity.
As I have stated this is an incredibly flawed movie, although in saying that this film does revolve around an incredibly flawed individual so maybe that is saying something, I don’t personally think so. There really are only three reasons to see this movie, they are, first and foremost the great music that permeates this narrative from the beginning to the end, it has not aged at all, in fact in a world where Mercury had not died he and the band could still be touring. Secondly is the performance by Malek who took on a role that was by no means a walk in the park, he in fact by all accounts is not only the hero in the movie but in real life as well. Thirdly, the recreation of the Live Aid performance that takes audiences behind the scenes, onto the crowds and onto the stage with the band is a seamless blend of CGI, practical effects and practical filmmaking at its best, as I have said it serves as the centre of the entire movie, even though it is at the climax, even though its not the end of the story.
Even though I definitely do not think this is even in the top twenty movies of 2018 I have to admit that I had a good time with it, with all its faults, the revisionist history of Freddie as well as the band themselves, the questioning of his actual gayness pivoting towards bisexuality even though if you know anything Mercury had a male partner who was with him when he dies. In saying that I recommend this movie as a part of anyone’s collection especially on 4K with a superior picture as well as soundtrack, however if you can see this on a big screen you should do yourself a favour and see it that way as well.