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.]