Bohemian Rhapsody – Film Review by Kevin C. Olohan
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (screenplay by), Anthony McCarten (story by)
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello
There is an underrated 2007 comedy film called Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. It stars John C. Reilly as a Johnny Cash/Ray Charles hybrid who achieves musical stardom against a disapproving father, various drug addictions, multiple marriages…oh and having no sense of smell. It’s a fun and silly movie, but It is actually such a savage satire of Walk the Line, Ray and the whole musical biopic genre as a whole, that I struggle to watch any biopics at all anymore. They all seem inherently silly to me now I can’t unsee the similarities across them. No more was this the case, than with 2014’s Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy. A film so plagued with biopic cliché not even the always redeeming Paul Dano could save it. It’s all just: “You’re never gonna make it John/Ray/Brian/*Insert superstar here.*” it raises the question, why do we make/watch biopics? It seems they’re never good enough for anybody. Either people aren’t happy with the casting, or the focus of the film, or whether or not the actor is singing/playing. If this is the case, why don’t those same people go and watch a documentary of that band/artist? Artistic license and subjectivity seems to be key. Look at the works of Peter Morgan with Frost/Nixon and The Crown, or Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network (In my opinion, the greatest film of the last ten years), they all centre on real people, but shift the focus, or alter events, for the sake of telling a better story. I’ve begun to ramble, but bearing all that in mind, yesterday I went to see the highly anticipated Queen biopic: Bohemian Rhapsody.
Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of Queen through the lens of lead singer Freddie Mercury. (Rami Malek) From his days as a baggage handler at Heathrow airport, to his formation of Queen with Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, through the highs and lows of superstardom, culminating in his tragic AIDS diagnosis, which would lead to his early death at the age of 45. It’s all as by the numbers as it can get. There’s all the beats that Walk Hard criticizes. The disapproving father, the pressures of studio and management interference, and of course, the tortured genius. The difference is, as the film says, there’s no band like Queen, and there is certainly no one like Freddie Mercury. Mercury is one of those figures that could have been considered unplayable. Like a mythological hero, and Malek’s performance is worth the ticket price alone. He doesn’t sing a note (It’s all incredibly well done sound editing of Mercury’s own voice) but embodiment of the singer in every other way, means this doesn’t become an issue.
My favourite thing about Queen, and my biggest reservation about this film is that, Queen were a band that genuinely was a heavy collaboration between four incredibly gifted musicians. All four of them wrote, and all four of them wrote massive hits. Drummer Roger Taylor wrote Radio GaGa and It’s a Kind of Magic, Guitarist Brian May, We Will Rock You and the Show Must Go On, and Bassist John Deacon Another One Bites the Dust and (Possibly most surprisingly of all) I Want to Break Free, a song that could be seen as Freddy Mercury anthem. And the film goes to great lengths to show this collaboration on-screen. Possibly too much, but as I worried it would just focus on Freddy, I didn’t mind this at all. I think this is actually a biopic musicians will enjoy, as there is a huge amount of screen time given to the writing and the recording of the music itself.
There are script problems, it can’t be denied. There’s way too much “We’re a family” and just general self-aggrandizing, but there also is great humour and a lot of warmth too. Two things I do want to heavily criticize is Aidan Gillen as Queen’s manager John Reid, who changes from Irish to Scottish from line to line. Also Mike Myers is there, doing the Shrek voice! It’s 2018 and how are people still pyaing Mike Myers to do the Sthrek voice?
The film also has a full on pantomime villain in Allen Leech’s portrayal of Queen’s personal manager Paul Prenter. He seems to have actually been to Queen, what the world thinks Yoko Ono was to The Beatles.
What gives great warmth to the film is the performances of Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddy’s long time confidant. And of Gwyllm Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello as Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon respectively. Hardy’s performance, in particular, was my favourite part of the film. It was actually really lovely to see screen time be given to the less glamorous and more down to earth back bone of one of the greatest bands of all time.
The tagline of Bohemian Rhapsody is “The only thing more extraordinary than their music, is his story.” This was a very poor choice of tag line, because having seen this film, I believe that when it comes to Freddie Mercury or Queen, nothing is more extraordinary than their music. Mercury himself hid his AIDS diagnosis from the public until the day before his death, because he didn’t want to be judged on anything except his music. But why I enjoyed this film, is there is a lot of the music in there, and a lot of speculation to just how those sausages got made. And to get back to my earlier point of “Why do we make/watch biopic.” as a twelve-year-old boy, the film Walk the Line was my introduction to the music of Johnny Cash, of whom I have been an avid fan of ever since. I’ve always been a massive fan of Queen, and watching Bohemian Rhapsody has plunged me back into another Queen binge. So, if this film introduces a new generation to the genius of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon, then that is something of value. If anything, It’s a Kind of Magic.