Skip to main content

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody
(2018)

(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.


Which isn't to say the supporting players are slouches. I could have done without the indulgent cameo from Mike Myers, complete with Wayne's World reference, since it's a little too broad (and cutting back to him for no good reason during Live Aid is a bizarre decision – we last saw him a decade earlier – unless the director(s)'s under the assumption the entire audience recognises this as Mike Myers doing a comedy turn and that they want more of him), but his composite character of Ray Foster serves a useful function in emphasising the outré quality of Bohemian Rhapsody (the song). 


Freddie Mercury's band members are remarkably deft facsimiles, though. If they don't quite come alive the way he does, that's in part because they simply aren't even in the same arena of vitality and fascination, and because – as a consequence – they aren't afforded the same amount of screen time. Gwilym Lee is to be sympathised with for enduring an imitation of Brian May's massive perm, while Ben Hardy gets the closest to a defining presence with Roger Taylor's frequent clashes with Mercury. Joseph Mazzello, like John Deacon, slips by mostly unnoticed, as will this sentence. 


And if Aidan Gillen wheels out "dodgy Aidan Gillen" again as manager John Reid, minus his more outright Machiavellian aspects, Tom Hollander does his inimitably best Tom Hollander as personable Jim "Miami" Beach, the band's lawyer turned replacement manager. 


The biggest impressions are made by Allen Leech as Mercury’s personal manager and "bad influence" Paul Prenter, eventually telling all on the singer, and Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express, Apostle) as Freddie's one-time fiancée and lifelong best friend Mary Austin. If the picture effectively digs into the underlying bleakness and discontent of the period during which Mercury increasingly relied on Prenter, accelerating his gradual dissolution and isolation, it is equally adept at translating the warmth and genuineness of the bond between Austin and Mercury.

 
The picture particularly needs Prenter to provide some dramatic heft. There's little enough genuine conflict in the Queen story – I say this as an admitted ignoramus of lore, so I may be entirely wrong – such that Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan have to diligently create some, along with various exaggerations of peak points along the way (McCarten is no stranger to such embroidery, having previously refashioned the lives of Winston Churchill and Stephen Hawking in Darkest Hour and The Theory of Everything respectively). 


Bohemian Rhapsody (the movie) invents everything from the future band's first meeting, to Mercury meeting later love Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), to the success of the first album (it wasn't that big), to the split with Reid (actually in 1977), to the reason Freddie finished with Prenter – he trashed Freddie’s house or told all, depending on which fact check you read – to the band breakup (apparently it was agreed by all that a break was appropriate after disco dud Hot Space, and they reunited for The Works in ’83 – which included Radio Ga Ga and I Want to Break Free), to songwriting credits (not actually shared until The Miracle), to the HIV diagnosis (it happened sometime after Live Aid, some suggesting he tested negative in '85 and then positive in '87). 


None of this is all together less or more than what you expect of a dramatisation (authenticity is what documentaries, ideally, are made for), but the structuring of the Live Aid grand climax – the band in tatters, no one talking to Freddie, their meet-up having not played in forever (they’d actually been on a World Tour with The Works that ended a couple of months before), the fractious relationship with his father resolved on the morning of the concert (his parents "went to most of Freddie Mercury's concerts"), Freddie being diagnosed with AIDS – is a multi-layering of artifice that rather underlines how little their story lends itself to a straightforward, peaks-and-troughs movie structure. That said, this assembly succeeds remarkably effectively, and poignantly, with due time given to the concert and triumphant, band-reinvigorating set. 


The consequence is that the back end of the movie is the more proficient. There's a big gap between 1975 and 1980 where you'd think nothing of note happened, and consequently we re-join Freddie, expanded tache, house full of cats (with their own rooms), increasingly secluded and yet paradoxically enjoying the gay club scene like a fugitive from Cruising, in a manner that has been lent insufficient prelude (no dwarves carrying trays of cocaine on their heads, though, which will only reconfirm all Sacha Baron Cohen's reasons for departing the project). 


Malek is genuinely eye-opening in the lead role. He isn't as big as Mercury, but he makes up for it in presence and by inhabiting his subject's persona (admittedly, it's not very much of his voice singing the songs, mixed as it is with Mercury and Canadian singer Marc Matel); an irrepressibly camp, sensitive, preening peacock with a quick tongue and a devil-may-care courting of risk, his performance is one of warmth, self-destructiveness and indomitable self-belief. If you need to ask what the point of making a movie playing not just fast and loose with but observing wanton disregard for the facts was, look no further than Malik. It's a performance deserving of a Best Actor Oscar nod, whether or not he gets one.


So yeah, as someone largely indifferent to Queen (which means, I like any number of their songs, but I don't actually own any of their albums), Bohemian Rhapsody (the movie) worked just fine for me. I don't think it's a great musical biopic – very few biopics are great, let alone musical biopics; it's a genre that, by its nature, tends to be reductive, over-reverent and literal, unless made by a director with a clear vision – but it's an enjoyable, often amusing and affecting one, accompanied by an inevitably rousing soundtrack (although, I'd have steered clear of using their songs in the opening sections, until they're an established band). Iconic scenes focus on the inspirations for Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) and We Will Rock You (not the musical), and they elicit a clockwork, breezy enjoyment value given the hindsight of their stature, but for me the standout sequence might be Mercury, loaded, sweatily spinning out during an impertinently probing press conference.


And in terms of what might have been, I'm not convinced Sacha Baron Cohen would have been a great Mercury – who knows, perhaps he could have pulled it off, but you'd need to see a track record in dramatic roles before taking the risk – and until Dexter Fletcher gives an interview there's no way of ascertain how much persona non grata Bryan Singer (at least, it seems, outside of a Red Sonja set) contributed to the final film. Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie, on a scale of Queen tracks, might not entirely rock you and doesn't quite break free into greatness, but in its own way (not least at the box office), it's definitely a champion.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .