Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Good questions, Freddie.
Bohemian Rhapsody was the in-flight movie I watched while flying from Atlanta to Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago. It had been on my personal watch list for a while, and a three-hour flight seemed to be the perfect time to cross it off.
I consider myself to be a Queen fan. Not a fanatic, but I do like a lot of their music, including the song which gave its title to this movie. I even bought the CD the surviving members released with Paul Rodgers a few years ago. I was familiar with some parts of the Queen origin story, and certainly knew about Freddie’s death from AIDS. I even watched their performance on LiveAid when it was being broadcast live in the summer of 1985. I still think the song “Radio Ga Ga” sucks, even if it did inspire Lady Ga Ga’s stage name.
I’ve always believed that the moment a “true” story gets written down or filmed, it becomes at least a partially fictionalized account. I’ve heard that some events in the movie were altered for dramatic effect (such as Freddie telling his bandmates about his AIDS diagnosis prior to their LiveAid performance, which didn’t happen in real life) or to drive home a scene goal more simply. Real life is messy and often doesn’t make logical sense. A story has to have a clear-cut beginning, middle and ending. I understand that.
In Bohemian Rhapsody, I believe we’re getting a true-ish account of the Queen story. The addition of Freddie Mercury to the band allowed them to achieve a special kind of alchemy and catapulted them to fame. Freddie did have a heteronormative relationship with Mary Austin, which turned into a lifelong friendship after Freddie came out of the closet. The movie doesn’t actually avoid Freddie’s homosexuality, but it does treat his relationship with Mary as the central love story, even after he finds his ultimate partner in Jim Hutton. It makes one wonder what the R-rated Sacha Baron Cohen version of the movie might have been like.
The movie is, if I’m being entirely honest here, a typical by-the-numbers music biopic, not radically unlike the dozens we’ve watched before. A couple of things elevate the movie slightly above many of its peers. The framing device of the 1985 LiveAid concert was a genius move. Even though the band never really broke up, the reenacted concert at the end of the movie feels like a reunion. I like that the movie ends here rather than the story being about Freddie’s death from AIDS.
The second thing, and the most important element of the movie, is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. It’s not that he looks exactly like Freddie, even with the prosthetic overbite. But, he does exude that Freddie Mercury charisma and swagger. It’s impossible not to watch him when he’s on the screen. Malek earned the Academy Award he won for this role.
I should also add that the original Queen music makes this movie a treat for the ears as well.
I enjoyed this movie for what it was, even though I know that if Freddie were alive, it would have been much more daring and outrageous, like the man himself.
Firewater’s Movie Report Card: B+