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.

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