Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody - Review

For a band that broke the mold and refused to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre or musical style, it is disappointing to see that Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is simply another musical biopic that features an incredible central performance that elevates it beyond its cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers screenplay just like many that have come before it e.g. Ray, Walk The Line.
It's certainly no Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. You might laugh but at least it knew that it was a comedy and it was okay when it made certain references and jokes.
In this film, when Freddie plays the opening notes of Bohemian Rhapsody on a piano and remarks "Think it could become something", you almost expect someone to turn to the camera and wink at the audience. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene where a record producer tells the band that "We need a song teenagers can bang their to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song" and the producer is played by Mike Myers (who brought Queen to the attention of a new generation by doing exactly that). There should have been a big arrow with Mike Myers pointing at him on screen, similar to Mark Hamill's appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
The film takes time to explore the genesis of the band and how they would always do everything together when it came to the music. All opinions were valid and the finished product feels like a film that tried to appease too many people. It doesn't feel like the Freddie Mercury biopic that the project was initially going to be and instead you can see the fingerprints of Brian May and Roger Taylor all over it in the way that it repeatedly mentions May's work on Astrophysics and his PhDs and Taylor has made sure to showcase himself as a lothario.
Yet much like any of their live performances, the audience's attention is drawn to the Freddie Mercury whenever he is on screen and that is all down to Malek's performance where he simply becomes Freddie.
He perfectly captures the charismatic showman but also the troubled, mixed-up person who cannot truly be himself off the stage.
Yes, there are glimpses of his troubles and it doesn't exactly shy away from his sexuality but is hampered by the 12A certificate as exemplified in the scene where the band play Another One Bites The Dust superimposed over scenes of Mercury wandering around gay & S&M clubs bathed in red light. It looks for a moment like it could merge into a scene out of William Friedkin and Al Pacino's Cruising but never quite finds the mettle to go further.
Look, this reviewer knows more than anyone that any biopic will play it slightly fast and loose with the truth in order to tell the audience an entertaining story. It is the reason why all of these films have the following statement at the end of the credits "for dramatic effect"
However, there comes two points where selective use of the facts can impact a film.
1) The pedant in me will see a scene set in 1985 where Freddie is diagnosed with AIDS and they use Who Wants To Live Forever and think A - that is a bit on the nose and B - that song was not released until 1986 as part of the Highlander soundtrack.
2) When the story fudges the truth in order to elicit and manipulate an emotional reaction from the audience. This happens after Freddie and Queen end their estrangement (which never happened) and Freddie tells them of his diagnosis before their infamous Live Aid appearance because it didn't happen like this but is played out this way to heighten the emotion leading into this final performance.
Having said that, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to get up out of your seat and bang your head in the aisle of the cinema auditorium as the camera takes you right into Wembley Stadium for Live Aid and recreates one of the most iconic rock performances of all-time and showcase exactly why Queen were one of the best live bands and Freddie was, sorry Hugh, The Greatest Showman.

2 stars