Where to begin… as the previews finally ended and Rami Malek came on the screen to introduce Bohemian Rhapsody my thought was … where will they begin the journey we were soon to take.
Arguably the most iconic thing Queen ever did was to participate in the Live Aid Concert in 1985. Varying camera angles, shots from behind, shots of Freddie’s behind in those ‘80s stone washed jeans, following up the ramp as Rami mimicked Freddie’s gait. We’re given just a taste of where Bohemian Rhapsody will go, and end.
I’ve seen a couple of different Freddie Mercury biopics in my time and some many more than once. Bohemian Rhapsody only has 150 minutes to take you on Farrokh Bulsara’s journey through life as Freddie Mercury. A scene of Freddie working his menial labor job as a baggage handler is where we first see him, but quickly jump to him preparing to go out for the night with friends. His mom asks if it’s with a girl and the camera quickly jumps to Freddie’s sister, Kashmira, as if she wants to blurt out something in response, but it is just as Bomi Bulsara, Freddie’s father enters, a good time to introduce the tension between father and son revolving around Freddie’s choices he is making, time spent, and the name change. Familial unit established. Check. Now on to the band and love interest.
The movie does not waste any time in getting Freddie into the presence of Roger Taylor and Brian May. The third scene less than 10 minutes into the film was a quick meeting of the talented musicians with a couple of comedic jabs that made the crowd laugh.
Many of us will always remember Freddie as gay man, the film even has Freddie’s long term friend and one time fiancée Mary Austin tell him to his face that he was gay. I completely forgot about Mary, maybe the previous biopics I saw were more “he’s gay” and AIDS and flamboyance and promiscuity centered. Was Mary an anchor in real life, one semi-solid relationship that Freddie had or was it a pairing the producers included to be able to show Freddie’s swing away from ‘the norm’ as he found himself, the music, the fame? If the film tried to portray Freddie as a bisexual, in my mind, they failed.
Was the movie a little short on the man-on-man action because of its PG-13 rating? Movie producers were okay with seeing a shirtless Rami with Mary’s character on a couch as she is wrapped in a comforter, but as for the Freddie with another man, we are shown Paul Prenter (played by Allen Leech of Downton Abbey fame) trying to steal a kiss just to be turned away. Freddie locking lips with other men? I think there might have been one more time we see that with Jim Hutton (played by Aaron McCusker) whom will become Freddie’s partner in life. I guess if you are going to portray someone as bisexual, there should be more about him than just a shot of him walking through a gay club and giving a brief kiss here and there. No, I’m not asking for gratuitous sex, but the portrayal of his personal life was a combination of him feeling distanced from Mary and a lost loveless puppy, not knowing where his heart should be. Did he never have a successful male companionship before Hutton? Maybe that was how it really was. Or was that just how we choose to remember gay men, the environments and choices that were being made in the early ‘80s. Was this supposed misguidedness and loneliness the driving force behind “Somebody to Love”?
The movie’s first half has many scenes that try to piece together how this or that song was created, when and where, who inspired it, even having a scene where Freddie plays a piano backwards, upside-down, while laying on a bed, which story wise felt a little corny and forced. Did it really happen that way? Some were believable, but others just seemed gimmicky.
What also seemed a little constructed was the build-up of our hatred toward Paul Prenter. I do not recall any of this strife in any other documentary so either his villainous role in Freddie’s life truly existed or the portrayal of him as someone who pulled Freddie away from the band and loved ones and into a drug-filled debaucherous world in order to possess Mercury was done to give the movie an antagonist.
Bohemian Rhapsody was written to entertain, was constructed to follow normal rags to riches, overcoming adversity, the championing over a villain, but just missed the “happily ever after” sort of. We smiled when Freddie finally tracked down Jim. Jim had told Freddie to track him down once he loved himself which appeared to happen after he ejected Paul from his life and came to terms that it was okay for Mary to move on, have a relationship and a child with another man.
The movie did have some inconsistencies.
- Freddie already knew the band members, hung out with them, and tried to become a band member for some time, was friends with Tim Staffell. It was true that Freddie did not become a band member until after Staffell quit, just like in the movie.
- Mary actually dated Brian May first. She did not date Freddie until he became the lead singer of Queen.
- There was no Ray Foster (Mike Myers’ character) There was a Roy (Featherstone) at EMI, but he was a fan of the group.
- Freddie met Jim at a night club and was a hair dresser and never was Freddie’s servant.
- The group never split up. Freddie did some solo records on his own, but the band was in a well needed break at the time. So Live Aid was not so much a reunion for the group was never split.
- Paul Prenter was fired a year after Live Aid. He did cause strife in the group and was not liked by all. That was true.
- The awe inspiring scene in the movie was the Live Aid performance. Although it seemed they did the whole set, I do not recall Crazy Little Thing Called Love or We Will Rock You in that scene, but they were in the real performance (see video below).
- According to most reports, Freddie did not officially find out he had AIDS until after Live Aid. So his combatting his health issues before and during the concert were all for the movie.
Be prepared to have straight women around you ooh and ahhh whenever one of Freddie’s cats appears on screen or freak out when Aidan Gillen (Little Finger from Game of Thrones) comes on the screen as John Reid. And of course there were some gasps during a collage of clips showing Freddie as he walks through a variety of gay bars and back rooms.
The overall feel of the movie was cute, campy, upsetting, and emotional. We went from the forming of the band and the creation of their iconic songs, to seeing Freddie deal with his love, love lost, sexuality, and trust of others. We adored watching the ‘70s and ‘80s clothing have a presence of its own on stage.
When I left the theater, my face felt swollen, puffy. There were about 4 times during the movie where I was either having my tear ducts being overly active and ready to give it a good cry or a trickle down my cheek. The incorporation of Freddie finding out his status with the background music of “Who Wants to Live Forever” (tearing up now) to the emotional recreation of the Live Aid performance, and just the feeling throughout.
I had forgotten that Live Aid or at least Queen’s performance was filmed very up close and personal. The choice to mirror this in Bohemian Rhapsody played with our emotions that Queen and Freddie Mercury were bigger than life. The shots of Rami even on the IMAX screen I watched on had him flowing over the edges, not being able to be contained. I remember one whiny critic early on mentioned a promo for the film where they said Rami Malek is Freddie Mercury. The complaint was that they should have said as instead of “is” since no one could be Freddie Mercury. Well, by the end of the movie Rami was Freddie. We were watching Mr. Mercury on the screen, the mannerisms, the look, the teeth, they were all tools that Malek used to bring us into that screen and bring us along the royal ride.
And that was the end of the film. The producers or someone decided not to do any scenes of Freddie after Live Aid. Words told the audience about the final years of his life with Jim. We would have loved to remember Freddie as the Freddie from Live Aid, but there are many of us that also have the images of him from Barcelona and his final days. The movie apparently needed to pick a track to follow. They focused more on the creativity of the band as well as the tension between band members that by many reports did not exist, and did not fully embrace the bisexual/gay/AIDS aspect of his life. I was actually dreading the end of the movie as I thought they would take it there, to his final days, in video form. Am I grateful they did not? No. I do wish they did give me that gut check of how tragic his ending and many others lives ended during the AIDS crisis. I am sure I would have truly lost it then. But would that have been too much for PG-13?
One of if not the best movie I have seen in years. So good, I may go see it again in theaters and that has only happened with me and a movie two other times in my life.
As a personal side note...
I remember Live Aid. Queen played on Saturday, July 13, 1985. Just before 3 PM Eastern Standard Time. I was a young gay boy, singing in chorus, playing the cello, and enjoying the summer between my 5th and 6th grade. I loved it when my older sister, the one with the radio in the house would play her music, especially when Queen was playing.
The original set list was as follows:
"Radio Ga Ga"
"Hammer to Fall"
"Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
"We Will Rock You"
"We Are the Champions"
One more video for you from Yahoo.com