Thursday, 25 October 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody - Film Review

What: Bohemian Rhapsody
Release date: 1 November 2018
Written by: Andrew McCarten
Directed by: Brian Singer
Featuring: Lucy Boynton, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Allen Leech, Rami Malek, and Joseph Mazzello
Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee
We have been waiting a long time for Bohemian Rhapsody to be made and released but now the wait is over and on 1 November the people of Australia will get to walk in the footsteps of Freddie Mercury and his travels with the mega group Queen. A rhapsody itself, honoring the life of Mercury (Malek), Bohemian Rhapsody is Queen's homage to the man who pushed them into realms they were willing to explore.

Much of the publicity suggests secret insights into the life and times of Mercury but I admit I didn't feel I discovered much I didn't know. Not being British, I was perhaps not as aware of the racial slurs heaped upon him - he was constantly called a 'Paki' although in fact he is a Parsi - and this undoubtedly was a battle he had to face once his family migrated to England in 1964.

Mercury was 17, foreign and had a massive overbite so he was undoubtedly in for difficulty. He also managed to break into the music scene during the glam rock era which - along with his incredible singing abilities (rumoured to be 4 octaves although only 3 have been proven so far) meant he probably found the one place in the world at the time where someone with all of his incredible uniqueness could thrive and prosper.

Mercury (born Farrokh Busara) also managed to find a family with his band mates in Queen - May (Lee), Talor (Hardy), and Deacon (Mazzello). The magic which was Queen came from a synergy of great musicians who pulled, pushed, fought, and feted each other to bring out their best. Queen, like ABBA, explored not only their music, but how to layer it and manipulate it and cross over genre and defy expectations. It is no coincidence these are two of the biggest groups in rock/pop history nor why the music of both of these groups lives on and will continue to engage and excite into the far distant future.

The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates Mercury's relationship with the band and it is not a surprise given Queen are the producers. It is not a deep delving biopic about Mercury although, as always, he is the bright, shining star we all tend to see. It is a very clever and important look at the life and times of the band as a whole. It is great for us to see how important and talented the other members of the band were, a point which is driven home when, in the film Mercury swallows his pride and the band is reunited just before the historical Live Aid concert in 1985.

Bohemian Rhapsody is something of a love story. It is a band living in a nirvana of success, a garden of Eden of light and life and like all Eden stories there must be the snake of temptation which tears down perfection and brings sin into the world. In Bohemian Rhapsody the snake is Paul Prenter (Leech). Prenter - according to this movie - leads Mercury down into the hedonistic belly of his homosexuality, indulgent lifestyle, drug use and eventually the break up of the band and Mercury's exile even from the "love of his life" Mary Austen (Boynton).

A lot is missed or glossed over in Bohemian Rhapsody. We never find out anything about how he became a musician or his previous experience with bands. We do meet his family and discover their Zoroastrian faith but it is hard to see how their mantra of "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" which are reiterated constantly throughout the movie really impacted his life. There is some effort to infer Queen's participation in Live Aid is an act of redemption for Mercury but playing one 20 minute gig for free on the biggest stage the world had (has?) ever known as a band come back event is hardly putting in a huge effort.

The film also makes a huge deal about Mercury's dental deformity, saying it is responsible for his range. Mercury was born with four extra incisors and he believed this was responsible for his singing abilities. Probably an oversimplification, but the architecture of the jaw and mouth definitely affect the tone and timber of the sound so it is not to be discounted.

Having said that, Bohemian Rhapsody could easily be renamed Freddie's Overbite. It appears as if  the director (Singer) and DOP (Newton Thomas Sigel) were obsessed with this unique feature. Firstly, whilst the dental prosthetic used might have been accurate, Malek's mouth and jaw are not evolved to deal with so much tooth matter and so it looks very, very fake to the detriment of his incredible acting and portrayal of Mercury. Secondly, the uptilted camera angles used accentuate this feature all the time. Thirdly there are a ridiculous number of closeups of Malek's mouth which really just serve to show how bad the prosthetic works.

I have watched a lot of video of Mercury since then to see if my impressions of him were somehow whitewashed in my memory, but no they arent. Mercury's jaw and lips were adapted to his unique dentistry (it is amusing that Taylor studied dentistry...) and as such whilst his overbite is prominent, it is not as outrageous and uncomfortable as the film suggests.

The acting is fantastic in Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek is wonderfully complex - both gentle and outrageous as Mercury was known to be. The other amazing performance is Lee as May. You can tell from the movie that May and Mercury were very closely bonded. There really believed they were family. Hardy's performance as Taylor is also wonderfully dynamic.

The movie itself is full of the great milestone classics. It travels from their first big hit 'Killer Queen', through 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to 'Another One Bites The Dust', et al. The Live Aid concert is amazing and I do remember at the time it took a long time for donations to really start rolling in which was a huge disappointment. I didn't realise it was Queen's set which got the ball rolling.

I also remember at that time AIDS was a guaranteed death sentence and people were afraid to be near or touch people with AIDS. It was dubbed the gay disease (which we now know is complete rubbish) and there was a lot of stigma attached. It is not explained in the movie, but Freddie's secret admission to the band would have been huge. I am not convinced their acceptance was quite as romantically perfect as the movie suggests, but it says a lot about the relationship of all of them for them to continue forward as they did.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a beautiful movie. If you love the band and love the music you will enjoy it greatly. It is not the epic biopic the band deserve to have someone make for them, but it is a really good film and after leaving you will want to go home and pull out your own Queen collection and listen to it all again.

4 Stars

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