PG-13, which leaves me in a pickle. It's one of the few PG-13 Academy Award nominees that my class hasn't seen. I mean, I could show Black Panther. But this one, while not primarily focusing on Freddie Mercury's sexuality, has more than a few risque moments. Keeping up with all the other things that might be objectionable, there's language and drugs. But it is a rock biopic. I don't know what else could be expected out of this. PG-13.
DIRECTORS: Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher
Oh man. I feel like I should be addressing the elephant in the room. I've been really skeptical about the Bryan Singer allegations in the past. Maybe because Bohemian Rhapsody has been such a public film with all of the awards and nominations, there has never been clearer information about the allegations against Mr. Singer. Similarly, he left the film for a while. Someone else directed a chunk of the film. This isn't listed on the IMDB page or even on the film. Dexter Fletcher took over when Singer was fired. I had to look this up just now. So I'm about to write about a movie that is constantly fighting to stay in the spotlight for its narrative when its behind the scenes drama seems to be outshining Freddie Mercury.
My wife and I came out of this movie with the same opinion. It's a rock biopic. Rock biopics are such slam dunks because of the music. Maybe the rock biopic plays out as the perfect form of musical. It's music that we know and like. If you are seeing the Queen biopic, there's a good chance that you probably like Queen as a band. It hits on the same notes as a musical in terms of familiarity and being music driven, but it doesn't have the artificiality that many musicals have. Both musical and non-musical fans can jump on board. I mean, it's the best of both worlds. They manage to tick off a lot of boxes. But what happens when the subject's life isn't that interesting. I think Freddie Mercury is rad. But there's a real jump between being an interesting individual and having a structured narrative with an arc. Freddie Mercury was a tragic figure. There's a lot to weep about, but how much of that involved growth or major moments that really made him truly unique. I hate to say this because I enjoyed the film, but Bohemian Rhapsody just is the E! True Hollywood Story of every rock band that ever performed. It's Walk Hard. The problem with the rock biopic is that we know the stories. Like many other stories, Freddie Mercury knew that he had a gift despite the fact that he came from humble roots. The band forms, becomes extremely popular until the lead singer becomes overwhelmed with the rock and roll rockstyle, involving booze, drugs, and sexuality. He thinks himself greater than the sum of his parts, is bamboozled by the hangers on until he finally comes back to reunite the band. The only new element that Bohemian Rhapsody offers is Mercury's struggles with his homosexuality. It's a very well made movie and it's probably the best version of a Queen biopic. But is there anything special that couldn't be said for dozens of other people? I'm not sure I have that answer. Freddie Mercury was special. He led a remarkably complicated and trauma filled life. But I kept feeling like I'd seen this movie before. The term "Oscar bait" comes to mind a little bit. There are certain movies that we see that feel "Oscar-y" and sometimes, when you've seen that similar genre of Oscar bait other times, it loses its magic. Bohemian Rhapsody is a very good movie that suffers from the fact that there's nothing unique about the message.
But then I should analyze it without the context of the Academy Awards. I don't care that it's Oscar bait, but it deserves an honest approach. Singer took a very straightforward approach to telling the story of Freddie Mercury. The movie presents itself as a biopic of Queen, but really the focus is on Mercury himself. It is such an odd choice to start the movie without Freddie's childhood, but it weirdly works. So much of his childhood defined him. By the time we meet him, although he is not in the band, he is the character of Mercury. He has the confidence and the character from moment one. Who is to say that is not something that he carried throughout his childhood, but it seemed like his Zoroastrian background should have colored his choices throughout life. Like many of these stories, rocker Freddie Mercury came from humble backgrounds. I keep hearing that idiom, but Bohemian Rhapsody really stresses what that means from a first generation American. I'm pretty sure that the movie addresses this, but Mercury fell into the category of vaguely ethnic. Often confused for being Pakistani, Mercury was the son of Zoroastrian immigrants. The movie paints his parents as almost bumpkins. I'm not talking about them being slow-witted, but simply being set in their quiet ways. It seemed like his parents were trying to stay off the radar while Mercury somehow knew that he was destined for greatness. I don't know if the movie means to tell the narrative, but Mercury kind of comes across as selfish. Often being confrontational, he constantly reminds his parents how their way of life was too quaint for anyone to completely embrace it. Without a look at his childhood, we don't really get to understand where all this animosity towards his parents comes from. This kind of runs in line with his homosexuality. The movie presents Mercury as someone who claims to be ignorant of his own sexuality. Sure, there are cultural motives to present as heterosexual, but it seems like Mercury believes that he is not gay. It could be chalked up that he places this persona on himself to avoid upsetting his parents, but the movie stresses otherwise. Mercury is constantly doing things to embarrass his parents, so the concept that this would be too much for them doesn't read clearly like that. Mercury has an arc, but he's never someone who has to grow into the Freddie Mercury we all seem to know. That personality was always there.
The movie is criminally aware of itself. I use "criminally" because it seems to be breaking the rules of what makes a great biopic. But I kind of like that at times. I'm not saying every single choice works. But the meta narrative running throughout seems to work. I'm talking primarily of the casting of Mike Myers. Mike Myers kind of represents what most of the audience probably knew about Queen before this movie versus what true fans always expected out of a Queen docudrama. As such, and I suppose that this makes sense, but the entire film is scored by Queen songs. I mean, why would you stick someone else'e music in the movie. But then there also has to be tonal appropriateness. The movie's credits are over "Don't Stop Me Now", my favorite Queen song ever since it was used in Shaun of the Dead. But that means that we are treated to the works of Queen sometimes when they might not exactly move the soul in the way that they could. The soundtrack acts both as a tonal reminder of the events of the film, but also must serve the chronology of Queen. For example "Under Pressure" scores the scene of one of Freddie's big moments of break between him and the band. Chronologically, it fits. The lyrics are perfect. But in terms of sound, it doesn't really fit the events of the scene. I think I had the same concerns when I stress Moulin Rouge. The attempt to get the music to fit the narrative is a dangerous game. It works in Moulin Rouge, but it doesn't work in Across the Universe that is limited to only the works of The Beatles. Remember, one of the real draws to this is the music. It's a great excuse to listen to the Queen anthology, sung by Marc Martel. Yeah, I looked it up. Rami Malek doesn't sing, but that kind of makes sense because Freddie Mercury had a supernatural voice. So the music is awesome, but doesn't always fit the visuals attached to it. This stands true for the end, which is so long that it almost proves anti-climactic.
The biggest draw for this movie is Rami Malek. I don't understand Rami Malek. I know him from Mr. Robot and that has tainted my understanding of who he is. Malek plays Mercury as a character. I don't know if we ever know who Mercury was during his downtime. But Malek finds this nice balance between the public persona of Freddie Mercury and the man who kind of seems out of control of his own feelings. While Bohemian Rhapsody is somewhat of a puff piece for Mercury, painting him as sympathetic mostly throughout, Malek gives him moments that show his fallible moments. I'm stressing primarily the relationship that Mercury had with his ex-wife. I commend the script writers for including this. It's really interesting to see what Mercury viewed as love. Bohemian Rhapsody shows that Mercury probably confused love and marriage with ownership. The movie leaves little doubt that Mercury loved his ex-wife, but was never sexually attracted to her. Rather, he was obsessed with the concept that everyone was obsessed with him. It's this nice juxtaposition between everyone looking at The Freddie Mercury Show and a lone man living in a big house as he stares up at the Bates house that he plants next door for his wife. It's this gilded cage that he makes for her and I do love this element. When I started this whole analysis, I didn't quite know what Bohemian Rhapsody offered that was different. I think the relationship between Mercury and his ex-wife might give Rhapsody its legs. He is so possessive that he almost becomes this Charles Foster Kane figure, powerful in all but the most rudimentary understanding of what makes the human heart function.
I also really like the other bandmates. I know nothing of Queen except for the Queen Anthology box set I bought in college. But to see the other personalities compared to the extremely extroverted Freddie Mercury was refreshing. I imagine that it is difficult trying to play grounded when you are acting across from Rami Malek's Freddie Mercury, but they are interesting choices for performances. I wonder, because we just discussed this on the podcast about the Punisher, had the movie focused on the other members of Queen without Freddie Mercury. Mercury is this larger than life character, but the other members seem more human. There's something very humble about the other members of the band that is easier to watch. They go through real emotions and traumas and it isn't like watching a spectacle. The thing about watching Mercury react to all these trials is that we don't really know how his mind functions. He makes these grandiose choices, seeing the bandmates kind of brings the story back to center.
I don't regret buying Bohemian Rhapsody. I actually really enjoyed it and wouldn't mind watching it again down the line. But I also don't think that Bohemian Rhapsody is offereing that amazing storytelling element that would give it a shot at Best Picture. It was quite the theatrical run that it had and it generated buzz, but mainly because it's fun to watch someone else sing Queen music well. Regardless, it's a good time, if not a great time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.