Rumors of a Freddie Mercury biopic had been circulating since 2010, and it felt like every step forward was met with 2 steps back. Sacha Baron Cohen’s initial attachment to the film was seen as a blessing to some, and a curse to many, and his departure from the project in 2013 only slowed things down. That same year, the film saw and lost its director in Dexter Fletcher. It wasn’t until early 2016 that things began to move forward when a first draft or a revised script was developed. Of course, even now, not everything is sunshine and rainbows; fabricating a story around actual events is always difficult, especially when the subject is so high-profile, and the flamboyant frontman of Britain’s greatest product is exactly that. The media is having its own fun, claiming the film fails to serve as a positive-enough example to gay and minority communities. Be that as it may, making a meal out of Freddie’s sexuality or minority status was never what Queen set out to do, and everyone behind the making of Bohemian Rhapsody knows it.
If you’ve been following the media’s response to this film, you’ve undoubtedly seen a few articles pop up regarding the film’s accuracy, namely with regards to the order of events. Admittedly, things are a bit jumbled around for dramatic effect. Real life often doesn’t have compelling, developed villains, and, frankly, neither does this film. Where Bohemian Rhapsody shines, however, is in the stunning attention to detail. My biggest fear going into this is that someone had an idea for a story they wanted to tell, and just tried to use Queen as the medium through which to tell it. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be the case. I audibly laughed during the opening shot, revealing all of Freddie’s cats, having totally forgotten about his penchant for the animals. The lifelong fan will find the film littered with little factoids just like this. Anyone who comes to see this because they genuinely love the band will be pleasantly surprised to see that the filmmakers really seem to as well.
Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon are all portrayed about as well as you could ask them to be. Sadly, there just isn’t much of a demand for anyone who isn’t a frontman, and more about that will be detailed in the next section. As for the elephant in the room, Rami Malek had a hell of a task before him. His heart and soul can definitely be observed with each keystroke, and he did everything he could… except gain a few pounds. Hollywood’s aversion for testosterone certainly played a role in highlighting Freddie’s more feminine mannerisms and subverting his more masculine ones. So many men have tried, and failed, to mimic the ‘stache that it is more associated with Mr. Fahrenheit himself than anyone else, and it was a shame to see exactly zero of that animal magnetism here.
There is only so much that can be done to dramatize the real-world events of a band that went relatively crisis-free. Infighting is not uncommon in the music industry. Big names like Fleetwood Mac, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Gun ‘n’ Roses, Ghost, and even the friggin’ Beatles have all fallen victim to the throws of fame. Queen, however, was never really one of those bands, and the film tries to fudge the details of Freddie’s solo career to create conflict where there never was any. The result is an eye-rollingly predictable second act that could have benefited tremendously from at least fleshing out its other supporting characters. I would have much rather seen a 3-hr film about 4 friends, each making their own unique contributions, taking on the world rather than themselves or each other, punctuated by the loss of one of their own– the force of nature that was Freddie Mercury. Malek does all that he can, but at the end of the day, it still feels like you’re watching him portraying a character, albeit an entertaining one, rather than telling the story of Mr. Bad Guy. BUT… I’m not sure that it matters, because if you’re content listening to the Top 40 all week, then chances are you won’t be terribly upset with this direction, and if you identify as a bit of a music snob, you’ll likely look right past this error in judgement to see what’s really important:
I was worried to hear the film’s title. Sure, everyone knows the song, and everyone knows the band associated with it, but the film spends so little time around it that it feels more like an uninspired effort to get fickle audiences to pay attention. The movie could just have easily been called “Champions”, “The Show Must Go On”, “Princes of the Universe”, or just about any permutation of any Queen song, and made more sense. Aside from that, this movie has it all. I grinned ear-to-ear when “Keep Yourself Alive” was the first song they performed together. Chances are your favorite Queen hit is in here somewhere, serving as part of the actual soundtrack, rather than just a product of the band.
People never really pick apart inaccuracies unless there’s a political agenda at hand. No one really knew anything about the first Scottish war of independence until it became fashionable to hate Mel Gibson. Similarly, no one would give a damn about the inaccuracies of this film were Freddie not a queer Parsi immigrant. The critics can have their fun. They did in 1975 when Bohemian Rhapsody, the song, was released, and we all know how that turned out. This film runs with similar veins. Perhaps my criticism of the name choice was wrong. I could easily go back and change it, but I’ll face it with a grin; Queen has always been about never giving in, and moving on with the show. My only regret is that the show couldn’t go on much longer.