Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody.
This revisionist biopic takes an iconic figure and crams him into a cookie-cutter Oscar-bait genre film.
Well. Congratulations, Hollywood. We can officially mark 2018 as the year you beat the musical biopic genre to death. It shouldn’t have been possible to tell the story of Queen and its legendary front man Freddie Mercury in such a crass and formulaic way…but you did it. It’s hard to figure out who this movie is for. Bohemian Rhapsody runs roughshod over the actual history of the band, has forgettable musical sequences, features over-worked performances, and is hidebound to forcing its material into a stale structure. Perhaps no band took more risks than Queen; Bohemian Rhapsody cravenly takes zero risks in telling a contrived version of their story.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
On the eve of the band’s most iconic concert and grappling with a recent diagnosis of AIDS, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) looks back at the events which brought the band together and made Queen one of the most beloved bands on Earth.
I heard one person describe modern biopics as Wikipedia entries with soundtracks. Making that comparison to Bohemian Rhapsody would be an insult to the people who write Wikipedia articles. They at least fact check. This film actively manipulates dates and events to create the kind of redemptive tragedy that every biopic seems to require. No, Freddie didn’t break up the band because of his manipulative gay lover/manager. Everyone in the band had solo gigs before Freddie did his, and they were still touring together when the movie posits they were on the outs. Freddie didn’t do Live Aid because he had been diagnosed with AIDS. He didn’t learn of that till two years after the concert. It’s all tortured out of proportion to tell the kind of story Hollywood rewards with Oscar nominations. You’d think somebody would have said something, as two surviving members of the band had creative control…
The contortion of events goes to a deeper problem of the film’s revisionist history. We only have one side of the argument. Apparently, Brian May and Roger Taylor have an axe to grind about the cult of Freddie Mercury. All film long we watch Freddie spiral into debauchery and prima dona antics, while the rest of the band practically has halos over their head. We get one or two paltry scenes of Freddie working on his music; if one of the other band members so much as added a note to a fan-favorite song we get that fact shouted from the ramparts. Guys: he’s dead. Let him have this fucking movie. Oh, and stop gay shaming him, as if his AIDS were a thunderbolt from the gods to chastise a wayward sinner.
Tie Your (Movie) Down.
The worst part is that all of the chicanery, revision, and outright bad-faith shaming is in service of making a stale, by-the-numbers biopic. You can play bingo with this film: Starts backstage of famous big event? Check. Flashes back to formative childhood trauma? Check. Band gets together and creates one big song for instant stardom? Check. Descent into drugs/sex/booze and break up? Ditto. Wake-up call, leading back to that famous big event? Yup. It’s so pat and stale, I kept waiting for John C. Reilly to come out in his Dewey Cox costume.
I Want to Break Free.
All of the elements that make up this film are tired. The excessive montages. The gauzy saturation of every scene in gold or blue. The lackluster pantomime of iconic videos/concerts (sometimes getting Freddie’s look wrong, because I guess it was a pain in the ass to grow a mustache twice.) Rami Malek’s version of Freddie is a thin impersonation. He doesn’t look the part except for the final concert sequence and his lip syncing needs work. The whole prosthetic teeth decision is baffling, as I never considered that an iconic part of his appearance. It is so obviously a prosthetic that it rises to the level of a Jerry Lewis farce. There are points in Jamie Foxx’ portrayal of Ray Charle’s mannerisms that his performance borders on caricature; Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury doesn’t exist anywhere but this territory.
Another One Bites the Dust.
I’m sad that Bohemian Rhapsody turned out the way it did. It’s fundamentally bankrupt, artistically and ethically. What isn’t being crushed into a pre-made mold to con Oscar nominations out of the credulous Academy is actively repellent. To boil down the complexity of Mercury’s life and sexuality into a finger-wagging morality play is atrocious. It says nothing interesting about him (and a lot which is disingenuous), nothing interesting about the band and its creative process, and nothing exciting about their music. If the best a big budget biopic can do is this cynical, self-serving pastiche of counter-factual factoids in a pop-up video mentality, Hollywood should stop making them. Having seen the trailer for next year’s Elton John biopic, the sooner the better.