Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Talk about a wasted opportunity. In a year that has otherwise been dubbed as 20gayteen, I never expected a film that was supposed to cherish the image of Freddie fucking Mercury do him so dirty. With all the delayed production news that surfaced leading up to the film’s premiere, my expectations had dwindled down but I was still blown away by the blatant stereotyping, gay-shaming, and AIDS-as-punishment narrative pushed forth by what was supposed to be a charming look into the legacy of one of the greatest singers and bands the world has ever known. As a music film, Bohemian Rhapsody does what it sets out to do, and shines the most in those sequences that focus solely on the music-making. But I highly encourage everyone to read Kevin Fallon’s commentary on the film, as published by the Daily Beast: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Is An Insult to Freddie Mercury. He really captures the essence of the movie best when he writes:
“The mean-spirited, gay-shaming biopic of the Queen frontman rewrites history and manipulates the truth in order to, for some reason, punish the late gay icon and vocal superstar.”
If you haven’t heard about Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s the latest in a slew of mega music films, following this year’s Titanic A Star is Born and of course, one of my favorite films of the year, BTS: Burn The Stage. It follows the life of Freddie Mercury as the lead singer of Queen. We see the birth of the band, from its small days as a garage band called Smile, to the truly iconic Live Aid Concert in 1985, and everything (regarding Freddie) in between. I love Queen, so seeing the band members (with all their creative differences) come together to create some of the best, culturally significant, music ever is a great and entertaining sight to see. Coming up with hits like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, and ‘We Will Rock You’, it really took the quadruple genius of the four band members to develop these great songs. Easily, and understandably, the best parts of the film. The soundtrack is obviously a 10/10 Would Recommend.
That being said, everything else about this film really fell flat for me. The pacing of the film was very questionable, and altogether just felt like a medley of music video sequences / significant Queen moments. I attribute most of that to the rocky production and sudden switching of directors. The oscillation between being a story about Freddie or about Queen was maybe too much for director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Anthony McCarten to tackle.
As an overarching cinematic story, there kind of wasn’t one? Oh, except for the blatantly false narrative of Freddie’s “diva gay-ness” leading to the split of the band, only for them to reunite after Freddie realizes he has AIDS and perform at the Live Aid Concert. There’s so many things wrong with this narrative, but one of the more disappointing factors to me is the fact that many will watch this film and think this story is what really happened with Queen. Even as a casual fan, I didn’t know a lot of the detailed histories of the band and had to do supplementary research to realize many of the film’s plot points were completely made up. Queen never split up, Freddie was never the first one to venture into a solo career, and he certainly didn’t know about his AIDS status before the Live Aid concert. All those plot points were seemingly weaved together to narratively punish Freddie for essentially being gay, never once truly focusing on him as a real person (and in fact, sometimes focusing more on his wife). Aja Romano writes about Bohemian Rhapsody’s homophobia in a very worthwhile piece on Vox. The film really becomes an insult to Freddie Mercury’s legacy to paint him in such a negative light, and to have that portrayal be explicitly tied to his sexuality and AIDS status.
Of course, I can’t write a review on Bohemian Rhapsody and not acknowledge Rami Malek’s much-acclaimed performance. In my personal opinion, I think Malek did fine; he clearly studied with a fine-toothed comb every movement and step that Freddie Mercury took (especially in the Live Aid sequence, which made up like a whole quarter of the movie). But because I associate him almost too much with Mr. Robot, it was just a little bit difficult for me to buy into the Rami-as-Freddie. Like I said earlier, where the film really shines is in its music-focused scenes, but also in its hair and makeup (and teeth)! There are some close-up shots of Rami, particularly after they chop his awful hair, that he really does look like Freddie. Unfortunately, the god-awful graphics negate all the good production values in this film. Ultimately, the outcome of this long-awaited production is uh…. bad.