Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

I had zero interest in seeing this film. From what I’d read I guessed this would be a film with no surprises. I knew that it follows the arc of Freddie Mercury’s career from joining Queen in the early 70’s through to a band break up and then a triumphant return at the Live Aid concert. A music centred biopic would be the band gets together, nobody believes in the band, the band writes some iconic songs, the record company aren’t sure, the songs are a hit, the lifestyle gets to the band, they all fall out, they all get back together again. With Queen obviously there would be cliched moments were they just can’t make their songs work and then somebody will go ‘how about this’ and play some iconic riff etc etc.

This is pretty much exactly how the film is. It’s also gloriously wonderful. The trick is the cliches don’t matter in most respects. Queen were a band that was always a bit corny but just kept pushing through that and unironically owning the grandiosity of their songs, arrangements and Freddie Mercury’s presence.

So the film makes them the greatest rock band ever who pushed more boundaries and crossed more genres and styles and broke more conventions of pop music. Which is nonsense but with the grain of truth that they were a band that are hard to classify. Flamboyant camp nerdry which required a braggadocio approach.

The danger in slipping into movie cliches are clearest when the film tries to encompass Freddie’s sexuality. It comes very close to treating his homosexuality as indistinct from the dangers of a rock-and-roll lifestyle sub plot and then making his contracting AIDS into a tragic figure*. At which point the film has Freddie essentially saying an emphatic no to that plot line and doing Live Aid instead.

The Live Aid performance gets the full twenty minutes because why not. Even that is turned into the band magically turning the whole concert around and saving Bod Geldof’s money-raising efforts. Sure, why not. By that point I’d be disappointed if the movie had in anyway tried to be more subtle. Go with the aesthetics of the band and always go a bit more, pushing through the absurdity and the ridiculousness and chucking self-conscious under-statement into a furnace.

A convincing and capable cast keep the whole thing moving through the rock band cliches and the soundtrack is Queen, which obviously helps a lot. A great movie to watch if you’ve got a bad attack of impostor syndrome.

*[Obviously I’m not a gay man and there’s a question of representation that I can’t answer. I don’t know how accurate the portrait of Mercury’s relationship, lifestyle or sexuality is.]

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11 thoughts on “Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

  1. They changed some stuff about his life for dramatic effect into the standard Hollywood plotline, and one or two changes were significant, though they were okay on the sexuality from most accounts. My husband and I were unaware of those changes when we went to see it and liked it, and we probably wouldn’t have liked it as much if we had known about the changes. But the Live Aid performance Queen gave is generally considered one of the iconic rock concert performances, so them framing it around that worked okay and gives you lots of lovely music.

    Rahm Malek gave a really great performance as Freddie and the other main actors were also good and looked like the band members. What I liked most was how collaborative they were with each other. Usually you wouldn’t actually have that in the standard Hollywood rock bio plotline, but it seems to have been how they actually were. I also learned that there was a Queen song I had never heard of called “I’m In Love with My Car” and that alone made the movie worth seeing. 🙂

    The energy and the hope of the movie is really wonderful, even if they didn’t get everything right, didn’t trust it. And the Mike Myers scenes were killer.

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  2. I always thought Queen was a bland and kind of boring pop band among others until I went and listened to a cover band that played their songs with a heavier bass, much closer to how they played live. It was an enormous difference and it made me a fan. I still think their songs are horribly bad when listening to them on radio or seeing their music videos, but some of the live videos…

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    • That’s a good article – I would only add that the part about him being diagnosed with HIV in 1985 instead of 1987, while I’m sure the writers thought of it as a minor tweak for dramatic effect, is so absurd for anyone who’s familiar with the history of the epidemic that they might as well have said he was abducted by aliens. In 1987, antiviral drugs (though not very good ones) had started to become available; so someone diagnosed in 1987 had a chance of living until 1991. Someone diagnosed in 1985 almost certainly did not.

      It didn’t ruin the movie for me, but it did show that the filmmakers had chosen not to give much thought to something that’s important.

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      • They went for emotion over fact when they changed things. And sometimes that worked in the film, though it wasn’t necessary. The scene in the hallway where he passes the other patient, who recognizes him and there’s the exchange of the rift — it was clear that was entirely imaginary but it was also a poignant moment of loss and connection that symbolized the epidemic. Even when we didn’t know about the exact changes watching it, we could kind of see the stiches, but most of the time it was still effective embroidery because it combined hope and loss. I guess that’s why the other band members went along with it.

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