Friday 27 September 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Okay, I cannot really formulate my thoughts on this film in a way that makes sense, but I'm going to try my best to explain myself. A lot of Bohemian Rhapsody is quite rubbish. It is laughable that the film won an Academy Award for best editing, especially when you can highlight some key sequences that wouldn't look out of place in a Paul W. S. Anderson movie. It is a "greatest hits" version of the history of Queen, and the life of charismatic frontman Freddie Mercury. It's a family-friendly rock opera, in a way, with the mix of humour, tragedy, and elation you can expect from such a thing. And yet . . . that doesn't stop it from being a bloody good time. The highlights are absolutely goosebump-inducing, and easily impressive enough to make up for the weaker aspects.

Rami Malek is Freddie, in a performance absolutely deserving of all the praise heaped upon him, as well as his win at the 2019 Oscars. He becomes the lynchpin of Queen, with the talent of Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello). He also develops a life-long relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), constantly astounds the band manager (Aidan Gillen) with his vision, and his ability to make that vision into a fan-pleasing reality, and enjoys gently mocking the lawyer that they have in their corner, Jim 'Miami' Beach (Tom Hollander). And, as the start of the film makes abundantly clear (as does the advertising imagery and any trailers you may have seen), it all leads to a legendary live performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Directed by Bryan Singer (but with the whole thing finished in the last few weeks by Dexter Fletcher after Singer had gone AWOL for a while), Bohemian Rhapsody is almost exactly what you want it to be. As long as you want it to be a fun time in the company of Queen. The screenplay, written by Anthony McCarten, is more concerned with keeping viewers entertained and in high spirits than it is with providing a story that feels grounded in the truth. Even the moments that really happened just feel so unreal, so apocryphal, that it never allows the film to feel like anything more than a rocking fairytale.

It's a good job that Malek is uncannily good in the main role, and that you have Gillen and Hollander to look out for, because none of the other main cast members do anything worthwhile. Well, none of the cast members portraying members of Queen anyway. Lee, Hardy, and Mazzello are poorly treated in a storyline that serves as nothing more than a testament to someone they obviously loved. The sad thing is that you get the feeling that everyone deserved something a bit better, even if that meant showing more of the low points and exploring just what would drive the band, individually and together. Boynton is the other person who actually manages to make an impact, thanks to both her performance and the fact that she is the only character in the film given any hint of depth.

Please believe me when I say that I am not being snobbish (and people who know the wide variety of films I watch will know I am no film snob) by saying that this is quite rubbish, and quite rubbish in oh so many ways. Yet, despite the myriad flaws, it's easy to see why it's a crowd-pleaser. You get all of those familiar Queen songs, you get a number of great moments, and you get a finale that is up there with the best I can think of, in terms of making you want to stamp your feet, throw your fist in the air, and vicariously join in with one of the greatest live performances of all time.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get it here.

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