Here at DC&C we’ve been known to tongue-in-cheekily address our letters to people and things who were not necessarily cast nor crew of the film we are reviewing. We’ve attempted to curb that impulse to put the focus back on the people actually responsible for the films. But I’m taking license this time, because without you, Queen would never have been such a big influence in my life and being a Queen fan (or not) is central to how one will perceive Bohemian Rhapsody.
Bohemian Rhapsody – the song – is our family’s official anthem. I don’t remember the first time I heard it, because it was as much a beloved part of my childhood as the rink in our backyard, or the huge island in our kitchen where everyone congregated. It’s the song we sang together for decades and continue to sing. It’s a hallmark of each family gathering. But beyond that one song, Queen and Freddie Mercury were like extended members of our family, ever present in some form or another. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a week in my life without purposely listening to Queen.
When we planned your celebration of life you had two requests – that we have a party, not a funeral, and that we play Bohemian Rhapsody and everyone in attendance sing along. You wanted us to do this, not because Queen was your favourite band, or because you thought it would be cool. You wanted everyone to feel like they were a part of something bigger than themselves, you wanted everyone to experience the same kind of joy you felt when you were surrounded by people you loved and were able to give that same love back.
Just as it is impossible to distill a life as long and generous as yours into one single song, trying to encapsulate a band as epic as Queen, and a front man as iconic as Freddie Mercury, into a two-hour Hollywood movie was never going to capture their essence, nor was it going to please everyone. I went into the film knowing it was likely to devolve into biopic cliché – the rags to riches story, the drugs, the sex, the inter-band conflicts, the unapologetic hagiography. Two Di’s went into this film – Di the film critic, and Di the Queen fan. Though Critic Di has some quibbles, Queen Fan Di couldn’t help but get swept up in this story, warts and all.
It might please you to know that Rami Malek was cast as Freddie, as he was the only part of the mini-series The Pacific that you liked. And Malek’s performance is worth the price of admission. He studied Freddie obsessively for a year before filming, wore prosthetic teeth to mimic Freddie’s extra incisors (which Freddie never fixed because he believed they were the responsible for his near-4 octave range), worked with a movement coach to understand Freddie’s mannerisms, and learned to play piano and sing. Thankfully, Malek’s portrayal is not an impersonation, but an electric homage to a man who he knew never could, or should, be duplicated. Malek is the main reason to see this film, and you would have absolutely loved him in it.
Bohemian Rhapsody soars when it focuses is on the music and performances, when all four actors playing Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, and Freddie, are committed to selling Queen as a unit who created some of the most iconic and groundbreaking songs and shows ever seen and heard. Queen were constantly reinventing their sound, and surprising their fans. Which is why it is so disappointing when the rest of the film plays it so safe.
Brian May and Roger Taylor exec produced this film, and as owners of the Queen catalogue, the only way to tell this story was their way. Though Freddie is the main character of the film, it pained me to experience his portrayal as a shallow dive that glossed over his complexities and sanitized their legacies while tut-tutting at his. Sure, rock gods are known to be petulant egomaniacs, but to posit that Queen’s biggest conflict was Freddie’s lifestyle and his decision to make solo records, isn’t just pedestrian, it is patently false. The climax of the film sees Freddie revealing that he has AIDS while they rehearse their Live Aid set when it is common knowledge that he wasn’t diagnosed until two years later. It is this re-writing of history that I had the biggest problem with. This is a PG-13 Hollywood movie designed to get butts in seats, and though it is May and Taylor’s story to tell, and despite Malek’s dazzling performance, the end result did not do Freddie or the band justice.
You, however, would not have had a problem with this. You would have loved this movie regardless, because you would have taken it at face value and enjoyed it for what it is, and not for what it should have been. Knowing as much as we do about Queen and Freddie wouldn’t have diminished the effect it would have had on you. Facts and footage can be Googled. You would have been thrilled that a whole new audience is being introduced to the band and the music that you loved obsessively. The point is that Queen and Freddie can continue to thrill people the way few bands ever have, because they are simply that epic and deserving. It’s just a shame that this film isn’t as legendary as they are.