Victoria Jelinek

Bohemian Rhapsody
November 28, 2018, 11:34 am
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

BohemianRhapsody_POSTERThe movie begins in 1970 when Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), an audacious youth with a mouth full of too many teeth, works as a baggage handler at Heathrow and lives at home with his parents. One night, he meets, and then joins, the college rock band, Smile, and together they become Queen, one of the biggest bands in rock history. The film chronicles their rise to fame and ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Critical reviews have been lukewarm. In the interest of being judicious, I’ll cover primary complaints. Changing direction midway through production – from Bryan Singer to Dexter Fletcher – results in the subject of Queen and Freddie Mercury being realized in a safe, by-the-numbers manner, even as it’s depicting a man and a band who were anything but ‘safe’ and predictable. Queen’s ‘path to glory’ is fundamentally free of any road bumps, progressing smoothly from student gigs to sold-out stadiums within a few years. The film’s focus on Freddie’s relationship to Mary Austin, rather than any real time on a happy, gay relationship, undermines who he was. This part of his identity is further injured by the discovery of his HIV status being revealed in a quiet montage. Finally, ending the film at Live Aid in 1985, rather than covering the story of Freddie’s last six years, undermines the work he did during this time.

There is reason to these assertions, but the film couldn’t cover it all, despite its tagline, without seeming underdeveloped. Yes, Freddie Mercury is an utterly fascinating and deeply moving subject, and Rami Malek, who plays Freddie, is absolutely spectacular – he’s a strutting, bodacious peacock who’s also incredibly affecting, providing visual excitement on screen at every turn, just as the charismatic Freddie once did. However, I feel this is more about the story of Queen than its  frontman, so perhaps a criticism could be that the script didn’t fully realize its stated goal? And, it’s not about their, or Freddie’s, struggle to fame, it’s about their struggle to remain true to themselves, and each other, and relevant to their fans. I realized while watching the film how unwittingly omnipresent the band had been throughout my youth (and I sang Bohemian Rhapsody to my infant son as a lullaby), but I had stupidly not realized how collaborative they essentially were. From the moment the film starts, we see the set up for a large concert, from the roadies, to the technicians, to the ticket sellers, to the artists, setting the stage – literally – for the film, which accentuates the mechanics of creating the music. In my opinion, this isn’t a light journey through the hits that some declare, or the story of Mercury’s complicated life, but, rather, some insight into how those hits were created and developed by the band. Their relationship, for better and for worse. It’s compelling material. On top of that, one revisits one’s own youth through the music they created together. Ending the film on the Live Aid show simply creates a focused arc, a ‘bookend,’ if you will, that provides dramatic tension. As for not focusing on Freddie’s homosexuality, I think that’s tripe. The entire story arc for his character is about realizing his ‘true’ identity, who he is ‘meant to be,’ as he struggles with the role he has within his family, his sexual propensities, and the effects of fame. Mary Austin wasn’t an aside or an act of curiosity – she embraced Freddie’s flamboyance before anyone else did and was a consistent friend and lover for years (he left his entire estate to her) despite the fact that she was not male and consequently does not fit into the general assessment of who he was. If one is to be truly liberal, one should account for the possibilities inherent in human sexuality, and not be so dogmatic about how one “usually” fits into a category or not.

In fact, this film illustrates that things are not always what they seem, through its minor exploration of Freddie’s sexual awakening and consequent proclivities, yes, but also in its insight into the band’s marriage, if you will, and Freddie’s realization of his power as a performer. Ultimately, I found the film interesting, joyful, humorous, and poignant–fantastic entertainment that made me forget everything else whilst watching it.

The Dallas Buyers Club

dallas-buyers-club-2013-03The true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a promiscuous straight man who finds out he’s HIV positive in Texas of 1985. When doctors tell him he has days to live, he turns to black market medicine and becomes an unlikely hero.

Woodroof is Texas trailer-trash, working as an oil company electrician and screwing former rodeo glories while off his head on booze and lousy coke. He doesn’t pay attention to his declining health till a work accident lands him in the hospital. Woodroof initially refuses his diagnosis, and then he defies it. Abandoned by his redneck friends and fired from his job, Woodroof does not despair and, instead, hazards into Mexico for unsanctioned drugs and alternative treatments in an effort to stall the disease. We discover that Woodroof possesses a nimble mind, as he realizes an opportunity for a swift buck and quickly deciphers baffling medical science and pierces through hospital bureaucracy and governmental bluster. He creates the club of the title, a shrewd legal dodge in which desperate sufferers of AIDS don’t buy illegal medicine, but pay a monthly membership fee in which drugs are a perk. To navigate the marketplace, Woodroof gains an unlikely guide in the form of transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto), another AIDS victim refusing to be victimized.

But this isn’t a hackneyed Hollywood offering about a journey of self-discovery. Nor is it a vulgar sentimental film. Woodruff does not become a different person – he remains a scheming asshole and lowlife, and it’s his offensive personality that gives him the elixir for survival. Matthew McConaughey’s latest film is yet another indication that he has left fake tans, bulging biceps, and silly flicks, and is actually an exciting and talented actor, as evidenced in his most recent films, such as Mud, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, and The Lincoln Lawyer. McConaughey has turned the victim narrative on its head with a completely convincing portrayal of a hostile, but unbreakable spirit. This is a truly remarkable film with an independent spirit, full of characters that are both romantic and fallible.