Bohemian Rhapsody is a film at least eight years in the making. It could have used a couple more. The ostensible biopic of Freddie Mercury leaves out the biggest feature of the genre — giving the audience insight into the life and mind of the subject. Makers of the film seemed to focus more on the image, not the person.
I wanted so badly for this movie to be good. Freddie Mercury deserved a good movie. Just as the movie hit theatres, I read Buzzfeed’s review. ““Bohemian Rhapsody” Sells A Sanitized Vision Of Freddie Mercury.” Sacha Baron Cohen, I learned, had been attached when the film was announced in 2010. In 2013, he dropped out, stating that he didn’t believe the film was going to show the gritty reality of Freddie’s life.
Queen’s former manager, Jim Beach, was a producer on the film. Two of Mercury’s former bandmates acted as creative consultants on the film. In an interview, Cohen revealed that the earlier version of Bohemian Rhapsody killed off Mercury half-way through the movie. While the version that hit the big screen isn’t that disrespectful, it’s clear that the makers of the film were not interested in a full and honest look at the life of Freddie Mercury.
Going into this film, the audience already knows Freddie Mercury, the persona. We know he was outrageously flamboyant. He wore makeup and over the top outfits. The audience knows Mercury struggled with drug addiction and promiscuous sex. If you want more insight, you will be disappointed.
BoRap brushes on the fact that he was born Farrokh Bulsara, born in Zanzibar and immigrated to England in his teens. Other than an obligatory tussle of old ways versus new, there is no real examination of what it meant to be an immigrant or how it informed Mercury’s feeling of being an outsider. Being an outsider, an outcast is very much the heart of what makes Queen Queen, according to the film. They are a group of misfits making music for other misfits.
The World’s Most Famous Gay Man
You know bi-erasure is real when the world’s most famous gay man is bisexual.
While Rami Malek’s Mercury does, attempt, at coming out as bisexual the rest of the movie does not seem to acknowledge it.
BoRap leans heavily on his romantic relationship with Mary Austin – his close friend and former fiancee. Mercury insists that Mary is the only person who truly understands him. The movie does seem to understand that. An early scene shows her helping him try on clothing from the women’s section and adding a splash of eyeshadow, too. His family delights that he brought home a nice girl like her.
But as the film goes on, Freddie grapples with his attraction to men. “You’re gay,” Mary says, when he finally admits he is bi. She tells him he is going to have a very difficult life.
The Sinister Gay Cabal
Splitting with Mary seems to be a breaking point in the film. Mary goes on to get married and have children and a normal domestic life (much like Queen’s straight band-members.) Meanwhile, Freddie’s loneliness drives him into drugs and scandalous gay sex parties. Paul Prenter, his manager and lover, drags him deeper and deeper into this new lifestyle.
The two relationships stand in stark contrast – caring heterosexual Mary and predatory homosexual Paul.
Left as little more than a sidenote is Jim Hutton, Mercury’s partner for the last six years of his life. This movie had the option to present a healthy gay relationship as the counterpoint to Paul Prenter, but ultimately made it little more than a note at the end of the film.
The movie addresses Mercury’s sexuality with a bizarre atemporal lens, treating it as just some secret for the tabloids. 2018 is still not exactly the most queer friendly time. (I’m looking at you, removal-of-all-references-of-transgender-americans-from-government-websites.) Coming out as queer would have destroyed Mercury’s career and brought Queen down with him. The stakes were astronomical. Did the writers even understand what it meant to be queer in the 70s and 80s?
Them.Us has a good breakdown here.
Queen is Fun.
The next few weeks, I will probably listen to nothing but Queen.
The experimental nature, unique sound, and pure thrill of Queen’s music trickles through the film. In between the weak look into Freddie’s life, we’re treated to band banter, surreal recording sessions, and excellent use of the discography. Two strong sections of the film stand out above the rest.
First, the creation of A Night at the Opera. The band is triumphant against “The Man” who insists that no one will want to rock out to a six minute song. Meanwhile, the audience gets a good chuckle because have you tried not-belting along when Bohemian Rhapsody comes on? I thought not.
Second, the Live Aid broadcast in 1985. The stage at Wembley Stadium frames the film, and recreates the performance that drove a spike in donations. Coming to terms with his AIDS diagnosis, and effective death sentence, Mercury storms the stage with passion and defiance. This, I thought, is what this movie was supposed to be.
It’s a shame there was so little of it.
The credits roll to Don’t Stop Me Now, a nod to the legend that lives on. If you’re like me, you’ll leave the theatre simultaneously crying and rocking out.
Where Is The End?
In reality, Mercury remained in denial of his diagnosis until 1987. He spent the last years of his life with Jim Hutton, and he sang throughout it all. Until one day, too tired to record, he said he would take a break and finish tomorrow. He never returned to the studio.
When Bohemian Rhapsody first hit the airwaves in 1975, critical response was lackluster at best. Rolling Stone even ignored it when it first reviewed the album. Later, they would go on to call it “a brazen hodgepodge.” But we all know, the song went on to be an amazing hit with the fans. Now, in 2018, Rotten Tomatoes has Bohemian Rhapsody sitting at 59%, but the audience score is well in the 90s. It seems oddly fitting for the reception of the film to mirror its namesake so closely.
There is an argument to be made for marketability. I personally feel frustrated with what was left out of the film. But if you go in and take it at face value, you’ll come out with Killer Queen stuck in your head.
Final Rating: 6/10 – the same score I gave Venom. And now I want to see Venom again.
However, I plan on picking up a copy of Somebody to Love: The Life, Death, and Legacy of Freddie Mercury. Dueling Genre’s Scott Tofte recommended this book and the dude knows his music. I’m hoping this will give me what I wanted to get out of it.
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