Bohemian Rhapsody was released on November 2nd of this year and I’m going to break a few rules here by assuming you, my darling readers, have already gone out and seen this film. Even if you haven’t, I feel like there is almost no way of me accidentally spoiling the show for you, since the story of Queen was already legendary before the movie was even a thought in anyone’s mind. This film’s runtime is 2 hours and 13 minutes, which would be considered lengthy for a regular blockbuster, but as this film is trying to fit in over a decade of information into that timeframe, some Queen fans are not completely content with the final product. The film is a biopic and nearly a docudrama, but certainly not a full-fledged documentary. As I sat in the theater watching it, I realized that how much you will enjoy the film greatly depends on whether you are going into it expecting to watch a theatrical film about a legendary band or you expect to see a dramatic and theatrical documentary about said band and their iconic lead singer. If you’re expecting the latter, you may need to pump the brakes before entering the theater.
While I am a Queen fan, I definitely don’t consider myself to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the band’s history. I did, however, cock my head to the side like a confused dog quite frequently while watching the film. I heard a man in front of me audibly whispering “What the hell” to himself at least three times. You get used to the idea that the film isn’t going to be historically spot-on quickly, as Freddie (Rami Malek) belts out an impromptu audition to show off his pipes to Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), who had just lost their current band Smile’s lead singer, and then John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) just sort of materializes out of a rock god poof of smoke. The film had to find a jumping-off point though to get everyone out of college and into the recording studio, so the film bent history to fit its narrative.
While Bohemian Rhapsody has a lot of moments that will make die-hard fans shake their heads, it also has moments that are a pure joy to watch. Watching the cast recreate recording some of their hits—even when they were fighting about whose song was going to go where—was still fun and more reminiscent of listening to your friends fight over who gets to ride shotgun and control the radio than it was watching behind-the-scenes of a rock band trying to record an album. Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury is by far one of the most outstanding aspects of the film, and while sometimes it may be a bit over-exaggerated, it gave me chills every now and then when he would so closely mimic Freddie’s actual gestures or mannerisms that I had seen from past interviews and taped concerts. While Freddie was known for his flamboyance on-stage and in interviews, he was also known for a much shyer nature when in private. That is portrayed in the film, but it often comes off as making him seem more desperately lonely than just a shy guy that wants to hang out with his cats because while I’m a dog person, I can see how cats are probably better than other humans as well. There were other missteps in portraying band members as looking down on Freddie for his hedonistic lifestyle as if they had never taken a step out of line in any of their marriages or relationships, but I’ll digress from that history lesson though.
The film, of course, is supposed to be about the entire band and not just Freddie Mercury alone, but we really don’t ever see the other band members alone like we do with Freddie (there’s barely any mention of how the rest of the band grew up or where). As a viewer, it felt like I was watching a movie about Freddie Mercury and his band rising to fame and then nearly being dismantled by their singer when he got bored and wanted to do a solo album, all while trying to navigate his way through being a homosexual man in the ’80s. It’s not as if this film was made without being able to ask actual band members how and when events took place, as Roger Taylor and Brian May helped in production and were on the set quite often. So, some of the things that were mashed together to help save time, I completely understood. The mashup of record execs that turned down Queen in one fashion or another being formed into one fictitious man, Ray Foster (Mike Myers), was unexpected and hilarious. The references to Wayne’s World in the film alone were enough to satiate me for about half an hour, while I tried to surface all my historical knowledge of Queen. I was determined to keep up in outrage with the guy sitting in front of me, as I was starting to make silent bets in my head about when he was going to stand up, flip off the screen, and stomp out.
We’d together made it through most of the movie without throwing popcorn at the screen or booing. That is until the cliched coughing up blood, and bam, you have an incurable disease (I scoffed first that time). I could tell that the film was about to start on its final mile, as years of information were being shoved together from Freddie finding out years early that he has AIDS, to finding a lost love and them coming out together to Freddie’s parents, all within a 20-minute timeframe. At this point, I was actually slack-jawed in amazement at what was happening. They had to speed up Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis, because we all know no-one is going to make a movie about Queen and forget to mention that, but they want to end the film on a high note, so the band all stands around practicing their Live Aid set when Freddie tell them that he has “it”.
I’m not going to lie, I cried because it was sad to think about, and I’m a crier. That was also the moment when I heard half the theater cursing at the screen, though. Not only did we get this insanely early diagnosis, but we also somehow never, not even once, heard mention of the outrage people felt towards the band when they came back from playing in South Africa at Sun City during the height of Apartheid. This was not long at all before them playing Live Aid either, so I couldn’t really gauge if the audience was outraged more over the film shamelessly glossing over a stain on the band’s name, or if everyone was angry over the fact that they were trying to sap up what is widely known as one of the greatest live performances of all-time with an AIDS diagnosis. I would have preferred they kept in the Sun City information, and let the band defend themselves as they did when the whole spectacle occurred. Either way, the theatergoers were not happy.
At this point I was misty-eyed, a bit irritated, and about to claw my way up a wall for a cigarette because I would like to point out right now that there is so much smoking in this film that if you’re actively trying to quit, you’re going to want to slap on a few extra patches or chew every piece of gum ever made while watching. No matter, I was still pumped to see what they were going to show us for Live Aid, and this is the part of the film that delivered so hard that it might as well have slapped me in the face with half a microphone stand. I remember watching taped videos of Live Aid when I was a kid, and later videos of it on YouTube when that became possible. As soon as the band walks onto the stage, the whole movie is nearly redeemed, and everything seemed to work for the entire scene. Rami Malek and the rest of the cast pulled off a spot-on performance, and the set matched literally down to the glasses of beer sitting on the piano. Once everyone was clapping along to “Radio Ga Ga”, the last thing I heard the guy sitting in front of me say was “Oh…wow”. So, that was at least one win for the film in his eyes, and he was a tough audience member.
I don’t think I was quite as tough on the film as a lot of people because, in my mind, I know that I did have fun watching a lot of it. I even had fun coming home and pulling up Queen information and interviews with the band like I know millions of other people did, so we could all sit around and watch the band and the real Freddie tug at our heartstrings from 27 years in the past. I had even more fun when my mother said something in passing about going and getting A Night at the Opera on vinyl; I knew that wasn’t going to be possible for quite some time after this film. If Bohemian Rhapsody’s main objective was to get Queen’s story—with or without altered facts—out there and fresh in people’s minds again, then the film absolutely hit the nail on the head.