Bohemian Rhapsody retrospective- Results varied for everyone involved and who watched.
There are a lot of popular films that have perplexing reputations. Some would say the 2018 Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was too big to fail. It’s one to have received as much esteem from the initiated and newcomers to the Queen canon, and rarely has a film come under fire for historical inaccuracy since Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Like Braveheart, it was also a dark horse in awards season that ended up coming out on top despite not receiving the Best Picture trophy, and it didn’t even make the criticstop10.com charts; plus both directors’ legacies have become so entangled with their art that they can be difficult for many to separate. Upon rewatch, the unintended joint effort of Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher is neither the catastrophe nor masterpiece many have claimed it to be.
The cast, production values, recreation of live sequences are still astonishing. The editing that’s been vocally criticized, to the extent that it was picked up in a Washington Post article, definitely could’ve used pruning, but much of it flows for a Frankenstein project and a lot of people who aren’t editing aficionados might not notice these deficiencies. Some detractors claim that the film doesn’t properly delve into the artistry of Freddie and the band, but that couldn’t be more false due to the depiction of Freddie’s live antics, his creation of the band name/logo, the production of the title track, and the genesis for tracks like We Will Rock You and Another One Bites the Dust. Freddie’s love of Opera, his flamboyancy and love for both men and women are also made overt throughout (not to mention cats). Freddie also wanted to be remembered for his artistry and not for his personal life and relationships, so not going Hard-R is both a blessing and a curse. (Freddie’s mansion party is an example where the toning down is distracting).
Certain historical changes made are understandable as Biopics are the cinematic equivalent of stage plays based on real world events. Freddie confessing that he’s bisexual to Mary after showing her the live performance of Love of My Life is beautifully staged and adds to that his relationship with Mary, which is one of the best character dynamics of the film. Ending the story at Live Aid was a wise decision, and before that there’s Freddie’s confession to his bandmates that he has AIDS. While placed much earlier in time, it’s true to the spirit of how Freddie actually handled it and it’s heartbreaking.
Rami Malek’s performance has been criticized by some for that he doesn’t do most of the actual singing, but that’s irrelevant. Jamie Foxx in Ray and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose had to mime their counterparts’ recordings because they can’t recreate them themselves, and what matters more is capturing the actual subject than being an impersonator. Martin Scorsese has said in interviews for the unmade Frank Sinatra biopic that they’d have to mime Sinatra’s vocals, so the combination of other singers with Malek to replicate Mercury onstage was justified.
Other historical changes however are not only transparently dishonest, but also seep into the screenplay to hamper the story and call into question how much influence Queen co-leader Brian May had. One being Mike Myers’s Ray Foster- He may be a cute pastiche to Wayne’s World which helped revitalize Queen’s notoriety in America, but he’s otherwise a sitting cliche seen in so many other of this type of odyssey. (Not to mention that our final moment with him sitting in embarrassment as he listens to We Are the Champions at Live Aid is undoubtedly insulting). Breaking up the band and gluing them back together days before the gargantuan climax is not only false, but also ridiculous from a story-standpoint and only adds more unnecessary baggage to Live Aid, Freddie’s diagnosis and reconciliation with his loved ones.
But as a critic and fan of cinema- I review cinema, not merely history. Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t quite reach the heights it was destined for and could’ve used more nuance, but one can’t fault it for its showmanship and bringing Queen to a new generation of fans, (I watched some of my former high school classmates singing the title track at a Winter Drama Club play), and for being part of the new wave of Musical Biopics for better or worse.
RATING- ★★★ out of ★★★★