BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018)
Bohemian Rhapsody… the famed movie about Queen that I finally got around to seeing. I was late to the meeting of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, Mr. Robot), Brian May (Gwylim Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, Mary Shelly) and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello, Jurassic Park), much like Freddie Mercury himself was late to meetings. Given that Queen was a favorite of mine in high school, I went to the movie not really sure what to expect.
Taking what we all already know about the Queen story and applying it to this movie does allow a viewer a bit of (PG-13) perspective. This makes the movie a lot tamer than what the story could have been like. One already knows that Queen shot to fame in the late 70s and early 80s after the debut of their album A Night at the Opera. Queen enjoyed stardom for a number of hits and their albums. When they started out, they were most notable for Bohemian Rhapsody, a hit still popular and beloved to this day. The enchanting story ends tragically with Freddie Mercury falling ill and contracting AIDS in the mid-’80s, passing away in November 1991. The movie ends on a bit more of a high note, however, with the band playing their famed set at Live Aid 1985.
They were a brilliant and confident band, though. And the movie does not fail to articulate this. In the film Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen was a band that was artistically uncompromising in ways that only led to their triumph. In the movie, they seem to know right out of the gate their limitless potential as musicians. They act on it right away in serendipitous ways that make sense for starving musicians of the early 1970s and become extraordinarily lucky. This makes the first half of the movie, the half that documents the band’s catapult to fame, fly by in a breeze. It’s especially epic to watch them record Bohemian Rhapsody, the song, in the studio.
Of course, not everything in the movie happened how it did in real life. There are a number of ways in which history differs for Queen. For more info on that, click this link: Fact-Checking the Queen Biopic, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It’s indeed true that Freddie Mercury could be an asshole to anybody, which could include his management, music professionals, and other members of Queen. He had a fiery personality and didn’t suffer fools. He was also a free spirit. Like many other famous British celebrities, he probably had no special love for the infamous British paparazzi. But the band certainly never broke up.
However, alienating yourself from your friends, your “family”, as Freddie calls them in the movie because you’re an asshole is one thing. Becoming alienated from your friends because you’re gay or bi, or something deviating from heterosexual? This is the biggest way in which this movie suffers. It seems to me the message this movie is trying to send is that Freddie Mercury fell on hard times and fell out with the band Queen because he was gay. Not because he partied too hard and fell in with the wrong crowd who didn’t look out for him.
There’s a song for every change of Freddie Mercury’s life, however, and these well-picked songs that Brian May, who co-produced Bohemian Rhapsody, probably had a hand in coordinating to suit the chapters of the film. This was a nice touch. Roger Taylor, ladykiller of the group, wrote and was a staunch defender of “I’m In Love With My Car”, John Deacon wrote “Another One Bites the Dust”, and that Brian May wrote, “We Will Rock You”.
Worth mentioning especially are some of the early players who watched Freddie Mercury’s rise to fame. Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton, girlfriend of Freddie Mercury when Queen started out, gets engaged to Freddie before Queen start their US tour. It’s a bit difficult to pin down their love life, however. While Freddie clearly likes men as well, we still get a touching scene between him and Mary where she asks what her role is in his life. He says “I want you in my life.” And she says, “Why?”. Certainly, it was a relationship as complicated as the man himself, Freddie Mercury.
Another significant relationship is the business relationship that Queen maintain with their manager, Jim “Miami” Beach. Beach was definitely not a fictional character unlike a few others in management at the beginning. Beach helped co-produce the film with Brian May. Aiden Gillen, famous for his Littlefinger role in Game of Thrones, turns out another vaguely menacing real-life portrayal of real person John Reid, Queen’s manager from 1975-1978. But you might also recognize one the fictionals. Mike Myers is an overblown record label exec tut-tutting the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Bohemian Rhapsody ends with the band performing at the colossal Wembley Stadium at the LIVE AID concert in 1985. (For those following along at home, this was one of those epic moments in rock’n’roll that my dad had a record of in his collection.) This was to my relief that the end came here, not because the movie was ultimately bad, but because I couldn’t bear the thought of them ending the story with the other members of Queen showcasing their stories about ‘what came after’. There was no ‘after’ for Queen, for me anyway, without Freddie Mercury.
Sasha Baron Cohen was involved in the film before he stepped down over creative differences. It was rumored that he said that was the point of contention when he left. There are rumors that the real band Queen could have gone further with the story, with Freddie Mercury’s death happening roughly in the middle of the movie. These rumors have since been dashed by Brian May, mostly with the departure of Sasha Baron Cohen, who was lined up to assume the iconic role of Freddie Mercury before Rami Malek took over. Luckily, the story didn’t turn out that way. And, ultimately, the band knew that their best story happened when they were together.
Creative differences or not, I’m downright relieved that the surviving members of Queen chose the safe route and opted to cast Malek instead. Baron Cohen is, for what it’s worth, devastatingly funny. I have enjoyed him in plenty of movies. But he rarely performs in good taste. While Bohemian Rhapsody the film had a PG-13 rating and echoes of Spinal Tap, the surviving members of Queen were insistent on protecting Freddie Mercury’s legacy with dignity.
And I feel like this was the right choice. Rami Malek was nothing short of show-stopping sensational. Freddie Mercury was the heart and soul of Queen, and Malek wears his heart on his sleeve in this movie, throwing everything he has into the role. It’s no wonder he walked away with an Oscar for this movie. He’s a pure wonder with how he imitates Freddie Mercury’s real-life concert performances from Live Aid and pretty much everywhere else. Everything from rocking the ludicrous outfits that Freddie Mercury wore, to the haircuts, to the accent. The way he flounced with pomp and circumstance through the movie told me Rami Malek was born to play Freddie Mercury.
The movie wouldn’t be possible, too, without the gift of Marc Martel, Canadian-born singer discovered by the remaining members of Queen who was enlisted to be strictly the voice of Freddie Mercury in performance parts. There were three amazing voices hidden in a trenchcoat disguised as Freddie Mercury’s voice: Marc Martel, singularly the performance voice of Freddie, Rami Malek’s own voice during performance parts as well, and the master vocals of Freddie Mercury himself, straight from the vaults. I gotta admit, this was hands-down the coolest part of the movie for me, and knowing it is half the fun. If you do plan to check out the film, hearing Marc Martel’s voice is a stunning experience. For more info, and a jaw-dropping audition tape from Martel, click here: Marc Martel Sings Freddie Mercury In ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
With Rami Malek (and his ghost Marc Martel) shining so bright, the performances of the rest of the guys are a bit muted. In terms of looks, the guys have nailed their parts. In terms of acting performance, the guys are heterosexual white guys who become unbearably, to quote themselves in one scene, “dull”. But in telling the story through the eyes of surviving members, it inescapably becomes more of a ‘Freddie Mercury and Queen’ story rather than one about the whole band. This could be another drawback of the film, depending on how you view Queen the band.
The music and some of the performances were phenomenal. Seeing Bohemian Rhapsody definitely brought back everything I enjoyed about Queen, but ultimately, the movie didn’t quite sell it for me. It was enjoyable enough. I wonder if I’m even qualified to give a review of this film, given that I’m a huge Queen fan. I still have the songs from the film stuck in my head, and I happily remember my youth through their music. One of my favorite parts especially was when they film the hilarious and oh-so-cute “I Want to Break Free” music video, which was shunned by MTV. When Freddie Mercury talks about marketing their music toward misfits, because they are misfits, that scene spoke to me.
But I wanted more from these rabble-rousers than what I’d heard others enthuse about the film Bohemian Rhapsody. It had a chance to be a movie celebrated by the LGBT crowd, for example, and it missed its shot, miserably. In being a nice movie that doesn’t offend anyone, Bohemian Rhapsody fails to be a movie of substance. After all, only rabble-rousers and true fighters like the guys in Queen write songs like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Are the Champions”.