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Nov 03 2018

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

The review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

‘C'mon Gay Shame!' That's what we imagine the movies are shouting at us right now,spirits ablaze and fingers snapping.Though it's surely a coincidence,theFreddie MercurybiopicBohemian Rhapsody(‘yaaas,Queen'?) and the gay conversion therapy dramaBoy Erasedhave arrived simultaneously.This accidental double feature is a double closeted whammy.

It'd be wonderful to report that they're both worth seeing,but only one might rock you.And it isn't the one with the famous "we will we will rock you"chorus.But more onBoy Erasedlater since it's just beginning a platform run on 5 screens and will be expanding as awards season heats up.Bohemian Rhapsody,on the other hand,is opening wide on 4,000 screens and hoping to fill them like Queen filled stadiums…

Just before the bulk ofBohemian Rhapsodykicks off we follow Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) on a long walk behind the scenes of Live-Aid where he's about to perform a famous set with the band.Before he hits the stage in his white tank top and tight tight jeans,he's hopping up and down,a born performer pumping himself up for what he knows is a crucial legacy moment.

Live-Aid,the historic 1985 concert for famine relief in Africa,isn't a bad choice as framing devices go even if it fudges with the actual timetable of Mercury's life.Live-Aid carries its own mythic weight in the world's collective consciousness and it was also arguably the last time Queen truly reigned.The band would release three more albums with Mercury and go on one more tour before Mercury's death from AIDS complications,but they would never again be as popular as they'd been from the mid '70s through 1984 (their last top 40 single in the U.S.was "Radio Ga Ga"released in 1984).

Just as Freddie gets pumped up,a cold shower for the audience.We retreat back in time,to begin a dull Behind the Music style narrative.You know the kind.The film charts the band's humble beginnings,how Freddie Mercury came to join them,their rise from rags to riches,the recording that made them legendary (1975's album "A Night at the Opera"),and their subsequent flameout when personal addictions and artistic differences got in the way.The rise and fall of famous musicians is one of cinema's most familiar plots.

WhatBohemian Rhapsodyhas going for it,in theory,is that its central figure is Freddie Mercury,one of rock's coolest and queerest legends.Surelyhisbiopic will be different!

Why be different when you can blend in,this particular movie seems to say,completely missing the actual text of the screenplay which tells us over and over that Queen only succeeded due to originality and experimentation.

Though it's unwise to let behind the scenes rumors define a movie for you — plenty of movie classics have had troubled shoots —Bohemian Rhapsodybears visible scars from its own origin story.If you'll recall Bryan Singer mysteriously disappeared during the shoot,leaving the cinematography to take over and Singer was later fired.The movie was cobbled together from what he shot,as well as the work of replacement director Dexter Fletcher (who is keeping the gay musician biopic thing going by directing the Elton John musicalRocketmannext)  Throughout the movie there are strange Frankenstein editing choices,and scenes that don't play well or needed a follow up scene to land.Two particularly messy scenes involve a highly distracting Mike Myers in heavy makeup as a grumpy record executive who doesn't "get"Queen.

As for Malek,he's trying hard to make the wobbling picture look like it's dancing,with flamboyant swagger,and defiant quipping.Malek is less successful at imbuing the rusty machine-like movie with soul.The performance becomes repetitive with so little substance and nuance in its ideas about who this iconic musician was.

Most unfortunate of all is the treatment of Mercury's sexual life.You'd never know a gay man directed the film because it plays like a film from another era (and I don't mean in the "period piece"sense).We spend a lot of time watching Mercury pine for his ex girlfriend Mary (Lucy Boynton) and we didn't need to;a little goes a long way with Malek's memorably huge sad eyes.

Whenever other gay men are involved the movie is all seedy asides,anonymous unseen trysts.One early scene after the band is semi-successful has the gall to suggest that Mercury is inexperienced with men hitting on him,as if he hadn't yet been ‘corrupted' by the gay.Sometimes the movie even deploys ‘scary' lighting for the gays,red filters or shadowy vibes;there might as well be a neon "SIN"sign lighting up in case you don't get the picture that gay sex is trouble!

I'm not personally one of those gay men who hates every depiction of problematic gays.Gay villains can be a lot of campy or stylish fun,for example,and movies and television would be poorer if gay characters were only noble.ButBohemian Rhapsodyonly allows for two types of gay men: the tragic lonely queen (Mercury) and the serpentine predator (Allen Leech fromDownton Abbeyplays a music executive who is big trouble once he's slithered his way into Freddie's bed).There's arguably an attempt at course correction with the well-adjusted gay in Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker),Mercury's real life final boyfriend who stayed with him for the rest of his life,but even this subplot is inadvertently sex-negative since it's depicted as so pure and chaste.

Thank god for the music then.The recounting of the experimental recording of "Bohemian Rhapsody"and the brainstorming for "We Will Rock You"are both popcorn highlights: chewy and yummy with no nutritional value.

The concert sequences,Live-Aid included,are the single best reason to seeBohemian Rhapsody.

If you love Queen it's inarguably pleasurable to hear the parade of hits again (Malek lipsynchs so it's Freddie‘s vocals you're always hearing),and see recreations of famous concerts with their stadium-shaking foot-stomping power.In fact the movie might well have worked had it been as experimentally daring as "Bohemian Rhapsody"itself.What would it have looked like,to toss off one thought experiment,as just a concert movie,with all the drama woven into the performances and behind the scenes moments on tour?Or more condensed to just the writing and release of "A Night at the Opera"letting the seeds of common knowledge about what would later befall Mercury to bloom in the imagination rather than being lazily dramatized?

The point is this: Mercury was far too unique a star to be saddled with a generic biopic.A proper cinematic tribute would require ‘a kind of magic,' to use another Queen title,that this disjointed,uncomfortably gay picture doesn't even attempt to find.

also in theaters / reviewed:
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
First Man
The Hate U Give
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Old Man and the Gun
A Star is Born

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Reader Comments (19)

I watched it yesterday and enjoyed it because of the reasons you mentioned.
I also found it too generic to consider it more than ok fun.
Since the movie is too generic,that is why I believe some people clapped their hands at the end.I mean,Mercury's history became palatable and Queen's songs are very well used to captivate the audience.

November 3,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo - Brazil

Hm.I liked the movie a lot and felt that critics were too hard on it,despite its clear story-by-the-numbers plot.I actually thought the relationship with Mary was interesting - Mercury did,after all,state several times in real life that she was the love of his life,and left her everything when he passed away.I think Paul (Leech's character) is demonized as a party boy obsessed with drugs,alcohol and yes,sex,but not in any kind of healthy way.Maybe Jim is overly chaste,but...I don't know.I hear people attack Queer as Folk,for example,for being extremely embarrassing due to the inclusion of sex and partying,showing the gay community in a "bad light."Here they show it in a bad light and it's taken as sex negative.I think QAF had characters that managed to exist in the drug-obsessed clubs without falling into the trap,or managing to escape if they did;Mercury,here,gets wrapped up in his fame and needs to find a way out,which I think is more of a rock star common tale than any kind of shaming of gay sex.

The movie had problems - clunky dialogue in places,timing issues as you mentioned,and an obvious need to paint the other bad members in a positive light - but I forgave it because the story still managed to interest me,and I can't help but smile ear to ear with these songs.I'm probably going too easy on it,but I had a really good time.And honestly,in a weird way,the fact that we can now have paint by number rock star biopics about LGBT icons where our biggest issue is "it could have been far better"(and I'm not denying I'd much rather have the R rated version) is a small victory all its own.

November 3,2018 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Oscar chances?Malek?

November 3,2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I thought this was a troubled indie film but it's heading for over forty million as an opening weekend?My perception of it was totally wrong.Had no idea it was a big blockbuster.Haven't seen it yet.

November 3,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I don't want to be surrounded by Queen fans drooling all over the place so I'll wait for the next weekend to see it.

If this makes money and I think it will,I see Malek up for all the televised awards.

November 3,2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

What eurocheese said.Yes,the movie has all of the flaws critics have pointed out: it's shallow,rote,plays fast and loose with the facts,shies away from anything resembling a frank,graphic portrayal of Freddie Mercury's sexuality,and hits every music biopic cliché in the book...and yet I found it completely irresistible.Somehow,against all odds,it works.I won't be at all surprised if it's a big hit.

And I do think Malek acquits himself well,beyond just mimicry,and brings real emotional heft to the role.I found myself unexpectedly affected by the later scenes,even if they made hash of the actual facts/timing of his AIDS diagnosis.

November 3,2018 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I co-sign what eurocheese said.

November 3,2018 | Unregistered CommenterIan

You say that gay villains and problematic gays can be fun — agreed!Did you ever do a list of your faves?

November 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

It's more of a Freddie's greatest hits movie,I fully expect the Elton John film to be exactly like it in 2019.


November 4,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

It was decent.I really enjoyed Malek.Thought he was very effective.

Are we gonna get some talk about that "Bird Box"trailer?

November 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan (the 1st)

I don' t think any of us need to see the suffering Freddie went through,it was better ending at that point,I don't consider it white washing just good taste.

November 4,2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Imperdonable!!,los ojos de Freddie.Marrones.En la peli,azules.Con unas lentillas....Imperdonable!Mejorable en muchos aspectos pero me gustó!
The eyes of Freddie...WHY?Blues?Noooo.A great failed!
There are many things...I don't like....but in general,ok!

November 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarta

Honestly I loathed this movie and feel that all of the reviews,even the bad ones,have been generous.I found it completely preposterous and insulting.Poorly written,poorly edited,and poorly acted.I do not care for Malek in general and his performance here is ridiculous.The talk of him being in any awards conversation makes me feel like I'm being gaslit because I genuinely am not sure how anyone who watched this movie could entertain such an idea.I know that a lot of people liked the film and it has made (and will continue to make) a great deal of money,but it's a very,very hard no from me.And that is a hill I am willing to die on.

Relatedly,I also really,really did not like Boy Erased,but it's not nearly as bad as this infernal,blasphemous trash.

November 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

Not putting my money in the hands of a fucking rapist pedophile.This movie can rot for all I care.

November 4,2018 | Unregistered CommenterO

I'm sorry but there's no denying,this is a bad movie.Malek did a good job with Mercury mimicry but nothing else worked.Queen is rock and roll brilliance;no one needs this hack job biopic to remind them.

November 5,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Awesome movie.I am out of words,I almost had tears in my eyes at the end of the movie.The songs are very powerful and effective.Some amazing songs written and performed by these guys.Check out the songs as well.

November 6,2018 | Unregistered Commentershanaya

I thought the movie was amazing.The best biopic about the 70s and the early 80s.Malek while flawed makes it a remarkable performance which will gain him in an Oscar nomination,a golden globe,a BAFTA nomination and a screen actors guild nomination.As for the film's chance for best picture,they pretty slim right now but audiences are raving about this movie which is pretty harmless considering it's being labeled LBGQT film but it is a blockbuster and may break down the barriers of gay sexuality movies being flops and turnstile hits.I think the best moments are towards the end of the movie which brings the LIVE Aid charity concert for the starving people of Africa and I like when Mercury says in the chapel,were all legends or when he puts on the fearless sunglasses and he's in a hospital for aids patients and he walks out door completely and undeniable fearfess.I give the movie an A+ for the music and A- for the overall portrayal of the film.And Mike Myers really had me laughing as Ray Foster

November 7,2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoe

Re: Jes V.: I second that,particularly the fact that I felt Malek was special and yet I wouldn't think to nominate him for anything,although you see flickers of what could have been had this been made by different people,without the production troubles.

I will say that I felt there were some nice touches in the film making and that I laughed here and there.The music was of course enjoyable but...something so weird about this movie.I felt dirty watching it,like I was being forced to go through something I had already worked through.Idk.Weird weird weird...

November 15,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S.

I just watched it.And please allow me to say that this is not a great film.It's more like a memorable segments of a superstar with his biggest hits.And it's nom'd for multiple Oscars including Picture and Actor.亚博主页
Rami -a brilliant actor- does not go beyond mimicry and falls short when he HAS to deliver.And he's won SAG and BAFTA among others for this?!And he's now the frontrunner for the Oscar?!I don't get it I'm sorry.
Lucy Boynton who plays Mary Austin deserves such a better recognition.
The writing is not superb either.When you expect the most from a scene it just tears it down with mediocre dialogue and yes mimicry,and you go "Oh no!Was that it?!"The script does not dive into who Freddie really was,you don't get to know the real guy at all.After watching the movie I still have no idea who he really was apart from his flamboyant stage persona.
All in all,I watched it till the end for the sake of brilliance of Freddie and Queen.Without their music this movie would fall even flatter,if that's possible.

February 15,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEmHot

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