By Will Witry ’19
Saturday, July 13, 1985. Wembley Stadium.
One of the most important dates in rock history.
Freddie Mercury told the world that he would rock them and he did.
The Live Aid concert is where the biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” begins and ends, but does it live up to the monumental heights of the band it covers and their charismatic frontman?
I would say “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an enjoyable glorified music video in the shell of a cookie-cutter rock band biopic – and that’s not actually a bad thing. I got much enjoyment from tapping my foot to “Fat Bottomed Girls” while watching Rami Malek prance around the stage as Freddy Mercury. If you don’t go looking for anything of more substance than that, you’ll get exactly what you paid for.
Queen had a career with frontman Freddie Mercury which spanned the early 70s to the late 80s. Throughout their career, they cemented their place in rock n’ roll history by releasing hit after hit. Later on, controversy surrounded the band due to Mercury’s sexuality and later his diagnosis, denial, and death from AIDS. You would think this would be the makings for a great film and you’d be right. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not this great film. That’s not to say that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is terrible – it’s not. It just doesn’t live up to the potential that it has.
The film rearranges many things in the timeline of Queen. One major change is that Freddie is given his AIDS diagnosis before Live Aid. In real life, Mercury didn’t get diagnosed until around three years after Live Aid. Although inaccurate, I understand why this was done. The creators probably wanted to include his struggle with AIDs but still end the film with Live Aid. I can’t blame the film for this, but it bothers me nonetheless.
One of the most amusing scenes in the film is where Freddie is trying to convince an EMP executive that the song the film is named after, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is worth putting out as an A side on a single. In any other situation, this would just be another scene where the man is bearing down on the creative genius, but in this case, it is hilarious due to the cameo of actor Mike Myers. Myers, who portrays the EMP exec, is well known for his comedic roles one of which is his film “Wayne’s World.” If you’ve seen “Wayne’s World,” you know what the reference is. If you haven’t seen “Wayne’s World” then go watch that instead of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The highlight of the film is, without a doubt, Rami Malek’s performance. When we first see him, he’s a quiet nervous wallflower but then, like Mercury. When he gets on stage, he transforms into a flamboyant, extreme, and fascinating person, from every hand gesture to the way he struts and dances across the stage. One thing I will say, though, is that his performance gives off a certain femininity that I don’t feel is very much like Freddie Mercury. Mercury always projected a strange masculinity akin to David Bowie. He could wear dresses and strut, yet still remain the most masculine one in the room. I never got that feeling from Malek, who seems scrawnier, and in some ways, weaker than Mercury.
Another main obstacle to my immersion was in the physical features of both the actor and the rock star. Both Malek and Mercury are unique looking people. Maybe when casting the film someone thought that one unique look can blend into another. Malek has distinctive jaw bones that practically jut out from the side of his head, whereas Mercury had a noticeably smoother look. Malek has large, beady looking eyes that seem like they can peek into one’s soul, whereas Mercury had much smaller eyes. In the end, I see it as a terrific impression of a rock icon with some insurmountable physical differences that slightly sour it.
All in all, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a good effort. It tries its best to tackle the grandeur of both Queen and Freddie Mercury yet falls short in both departments. The life of Freddie Mercury, in and of itself, is a great subject to create a film about, but also a seriously difficult subject, too. “Bohemian Rhapsody” makes for a fun ride if you’re willing to overlook facts being rearranged and the omission of some facts altogether.