Cinema Dispatch: Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox

Directed by Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher

The day has finally come, hasn’t it?  Over thirty years since his death, several failed attempts, and this one being mired in controversy because of who Fox decided to helm the damn thing, we FINALLY have ourselves a Queen and Freddie Mercury biopic.  Like I said in my trailer talk, I’m probably in the majority of Queen fans in that I know the songs and see them as one of the biggest and most influential bands out there, but know very little about them outside of that.  I know a little bit about Freddie and that they did the soundtracks for Flash Gordon and Highlander, but anything else (including who the other bandmates are) is a total mystery to me.  Therefore, this is the kind of movie that’s PERFECT for me as well as millions of other people!  Hook us with the great music and the solid performances, and then tell us all the details we should know about them and let us leave the theater a little bit smarter and with a renewed interest to buy any number of those CD collections or to splurge on iTunes!  However, with a rather ho-hum trailer followed by similarly ho-hum reviews, is this truly the Queen biopic we’ve been waiting for, or was something missing (other than the director) to make this a true masterpiece?  Let’s find out!!

If you don’t know already, Farrokh Bulsara, i.e. Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) was your typical young adult in the seventies.  Work a crappy job, write a few songs on the bus, and drink the night away listening to the local talent.  One night however, he manages to convince one of the bands into letting him join and soon enough they form the band Queen; composed of Mercury, Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello).  From there, we watch Mercury’s relationship to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), fights with record executives (Mike Myers), and his burgeoning bisexuality as well as relationship with his handler Paul Prenter (Allen Leech).  However, with individual egos, crushing discrimination against homosexuality, and the looming AIDS crisis, will Freddy manage to keep it all together or will he succumb to his worst tendencies to find some measure of fulfillment and happiness?  Oh, and I’m sure the other guys have their own thing going on.

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“Play it again, uh… you!”     “What the heck!?”     “No time for talking!  Just keep playing… Buddy?  Is it Buddy?  No wait, Steve!”

Am I being punked right now?  This can’t POSSIBLY be the Queen movie, can it?  I mean seriously, why the heck did we wait THIS long to finally get a biopic, and the results are so mundane and amateur?  Did NO ONE have an idea of why this band was as legendary as it was and what Freddie Mercury means to millions (if not BILLIONS) of people!?  Look, it was NEVER going to be easy to make this movie.  The band and its music is just so ingrained into everyone’s lives that any retelling of their story would have an enormous mountain to climb up in order to capture the imagination of the masses and recreate the band’s magnificent sense of power and influence, so I sympathize somewhat with the monumental task at hand.  However, this not only doesn’t come CLOSE to capturing the magic of Queen, it fails at being anything more than the most pedestrian and basic biopic imaginable.  This is the kind of biopic that MIGHT have been green lit twenty years ago for HBO and would have gotten middling reviews.  Now?  It feels like a dinosaur; a relic of an age of film making that I had hoped we’d gotten past, but sadly the asshole that was MOSTLY in the directors seat (until he turned tail and ran) seems to be firmly on autopilot here and adds nothing interesting, unique, or revelatory about one of the most interesting men in the tail end of the twentieth centuries and one of the most important bands of all time.

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“Are you ready to ROCK!?”     “YAAAAAAY!!”     “Well temper your expectations, because we’ll only be doing that about twenty percent of the time!”     “Okay…”

Before we even get into the story itself, this is just a half assed production from beginning to end.  There’s no clear vision as to what it wants to be or what it wants us to know about the band, so it ends up feeling like a series of sketches haphazardly put together with little rhyme or reason.  There are gigantic leaps in time where REALLY cool stuff happened, yet the movie seems completely uninterested in any of it.  No mention of Highlander or Flash Gordon, we never get to see them collaborate with anyone like Bowie or Elton John, and things that SHOULD be significant like the banned music video for I Want to Break Free just comes and goes with little fanfare.  The only thing the movie cares about are two things; Bohemian Rhapsody which gets a nice long ten to fifteen minute stretch of the movie dedicated to it, and Freddie Mercury’s lifestyle which soaks up all the attention away from the rest of the band yet doesn’t really SAY anything about him.  There’s no insight or commentary here; just rote recreation and an occasional party scene.  The only time I felt the production come to life in any significant way (other than the recording scenes where all four band members have some great chemistry) is a brief moment when we see Freddie bringing Bohemian Rhapsody to a radio station.  It’s some sharp and witty writing between him and the DJ, and once the song starts playing we see quotes from critics at the time who were very lukewarm on the song before cutting to them performing it for a GIGANTIC audience.  That’s clever!  The filmmakers inserted a bit of themselves into the movie and made a nice little joke as well as a TINY bit of commentary about how critical perception changes over time!  Heck, I would have liked MORE of the movie to be about how the rest of the world is reacting to Queen as I have no idea how popular they were at the time versus their posthumous status as ONE OF THE GREATEST MUSICAL GROUPS OF ALL TIME that we’ve all lived with since Freddie’s death in 1991.  Instead, it’s about almost nothing.  Even when it TRIES to be about something, it’s so heavy handed and shallow that it just makes it even MORE apparent how empty and pointless this movie is.

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I would have ACTUALLY appreciated a tortured Jesus metaphor in this!  AT LEAST IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SOMETHING!!

Really, the only good things about this movie is the acting and the music, though I won’t give it credit for the latter because getting the music right in a movie about a MUSICIAN is about as laudable as remembering to turn on the microphones.  Hell, could even IMAGINE a movie about Queen failing to make the music sound right?  It’d certainly be more representative of the overall quality of the film and I kind of resent the movie for having such a solid soundtrack considering how low effort it feels everywhere else; like putting diamonds on a slap bracelet.  Speaking of low quality, the film ends on Live Aid which is an OKAY scene, but the green screen work is pretty shoddy as are the CG crowds which take away from what could have been a very triumphant finale to an otherwise mediocre movie.  The acting is what kept my interest the most in this, particularly with the other band mates who I STILL can’t name but at least know their hair styles (the blonde one, the brunette, and the dude with curly hair) and they have great chemistry with Rami Malek.  Speaking of whom, I think he does fine but he never convinces me that he’s ACTUALLY Freddie Mercury and I what kept throwing me off was just how… sleight he looked.  Freddie Mercury wasn’t the biggest guy out there (the two are only an inch apart in height), but he had a full face and a decent amount of mass on his bones.   With Rami Malek’s very sharp facial features and over pronounced fake teeth, he looks more like Nigel Thornberry than one of the greatest rock gods of all time which was certainly a distraction here and honestly why they SHOULD have made this back when Sacha Baron Cohen was still interested.  Still, it gives you at least something to pay attention to when the movie is doing everything it can to make you fall asleep.

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“The Gods themselves weep for my woes.  Maybe I’ll write a song about it!”

And so here we get to the HEAVY section of this review where I will be upfront and say that I am not an expert on anything I’m about to comment on and am merely trying to convey what I was thinking during the movie.  From my perspective, the way that the film was shot, paced, edited, etc, I got a PRETTY strong sense of homophobia from this movie; maybe not so much a DELIBERATE attempt, but rather in the way that studio films have always kind of danced around queer representation coming to a head with such an important icon.  Now because I know very little about the man himself and how he’s viewed in the LGBTQIA+ community, I can’t exactly say what’s accurate to his story or a fair representation of gay culture in the eighties, but from my perspective this is a classic Rock and Roll rise and fall movie that uses gay culture and relationships with men almost exclusively as symbols of Freddie’s fall from grace, while his initial straight relationship (Mary Austin) is the voice of reason and the symbol of where Freddie came from.  Again, this is all very familiar territory for musical biopics.  Do you remember that Tupac movie?  Probably not, but in that film the character was Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) who was Tupac’s friend before he got big and kept popping in every once in a while to remind him that the fame is getting to his head.  In this movie however, almost every aspect of his life that is bad (the drugs, the drinking, the ego), is closely married to his flamboyant bisexual lifestyle and in particularly his attraction to men while ALL his band mates (VERY clearly straight with wives and kids and whatnot) as well as Mary just shake their head at the decadence and debauchery on display.  This gets even worse when we pivot to the AIDS subplot which SHOULD be a sobering and heartbreaking turn, but comes off as clumsy and cheap.  To go along with the Rise/Fall template, there’s usually a point where the character has to lose something or hit a particular low point before they can get back on the right path.  A lot of the time it’s something involving drugs or alcohol that forces them to go into rehab or AA, but in THIS film they decided that contracting AIDS would be the low point which means that there’s an implication that it’s a PUNISHMENT for his lifestyle and is absolutely shameful for this film to even consider.  Even if it wasn’t their intent, it just shows how lazily this film was put together because apparently no one saw the connection between these kinds of stories and putting AIDS as a character’s “rock bottom” moment.  The AIDS crisis in the eighties is not something I’m qualified to talk about, and maybe EVERYTHING I found distasteful in this movie is one hundred percent accurate to Freddie’s story (doubtful), but really no should be considered AT FAULT for getting AIDS in the eighties and to imply that someone DESERVED it that it was an UNFORTUNATE OUTCOME FOR THEIR LIFESTYLE CHOICES is the kind of bullshit I expect from some God bothered ass hat; not from a movie that’s supposedly celebrating one of the greatest LGBTQIA+ musicians in a contemporary studio film.

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“Hey there!  Wanna spiral out of control and contract an incurable disease that the world governments won’t do anything to fight against?”     “Only if we gloss over all the systemic barriers to healthcare and make it all about personal responsibility, you handsome devil!”

When I first got out of this movie, I felt… odd about it.  It was almost clinical my thoughts on the movie.  Like… I knew it was bad and that it might just make my worst of list, but I didn’t really FEEL it.  I didn’t feel a lot of anger towards it the way I usually do when I see a movie that bad.  After a day though, yeah; I think I’m starting to feel it.  For me, they really only had two ways to take this.  Either they could have made a completely out there and imaginative rock opera style retelling of their rise to fame which would have captured the SPIRIT of the band, or they could have made something a lot more serious and focused on the AIDS epidemic that Freddie Mercury came to symbolize which would have gotten across not just his significance to history, but remind people of just how bleak it was in the eighties for the LGBTQIA+ community; something we could honestly use a refresher on considering the current political climate.  Instead, we got THIS which honestly is more than likely to do just fine with audience but doesn’t capture an ounce of what Queen REALLY means to the world and what made them special.  Queen deserves better, Freddie deserves better, the LGBTQIA+ community deserves SO much better, and YOU deserve better.  Give it another thirty years I guess and I’m sure SOMEONE will get it right.

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