What Bohemian Rhapsody ‘Deserves’
Bohemian Rhapsody follows young Farrokh Bulsara’s journey from long-haired, buck-toothed baggage handler to rock icon and music legend, Freddie Mercury. The film is a foot-stomping, energy-packed Queen biopic, depicting the highs and lows of the band’s rise to the top.
At first glance, anyone could single out the phenomenal lead performance from Rami Malek, the incredible shot-for-shot Live Aid scene and the undeniably brilliant soundtrack made up of Queen’s biggest hits. There are also some widely-acknowledged issues with the film, such as its sanitised, PG-13 version of events and the rather one-dimensional depiction of the other 3 band members. Nevertheless, Bohemian Rhapsody, if not a total masterpiece, was still an entertaining, toe-tapping time at the cinema, right?
Upon reviewing the film, many dismissed it as superficial, clichéd and even homophobic. Critics cited the step-down of director, Bryan Singer and original lead actor Sacha Baron Cohen as being a reason for their view of the film as problematic. However, the finished product has been incredibly successful in spite of these disturbances – the individuals who ensured that the show did indeed go on should be praised for their hard work in face of such difficulties.
Another common complaint is that the writing was “lazy”; critics expected a deeper look into Freddie the person, rather than just Freddie Mercury, Rock Icon. That said, they simultaneously expected band members fleshed out to a greater extent, as well as a cut-down running time. It is hypocritical to claim Bohemian Rhapsody ignores the personalities of the other band members while also insisting that not enough time is focused on Freddie – a case of wanting the cake and eating it too.
Rami Malek gives us a magnificent portrayal of Mercury, showcasing the nervous energy, eccentricity and indescribable magnetism of the rock legend in a captivating, nuanced way. Some critics even had bones to pick with this multi-award-winning performance, calling it more of an “imitation” than “real acting”. Others have criticised the film’s excessive reliance on the sound-track, comparing the Live Aid scene to “an extended karaoke session”. For a lot of Queen fans, though, this film is all about the music; to cut it out would be to undermine completely the legacy that Freddie Mercury left behind.
The most significant and perhaps the most troubling piece of criticism the film has received is that it promotes a homophobic message. Critics have described how Freddie’s downward spiral into a life of wild, drug-fuelled parties is portrayed as a ‘symptom of his gayness’. Critics might have preferred a narrative that puts a more positive spin on the character’s sexuality, but the events displayed in the film are an accurate depiction of the singer’s rise and fall. These events convey the real struggles of a man plagued with self-doubt, who feels forced to hide from an intolerant society. Moreover, the film appears to attribute Freddie’s going off the rails to his manager, Paul Prenter, who cuts him off from his friends and encourages his drug-taking. When Freddie gets clean, he finds true happiness with the love of his life, Jim Hutton. Hence, to argue that the film is overtly homophobic seems more than a little unfair.
So, with all that criticism in mind, it’s a wonder that Bohemian Rhapsody had such a stellar award season. It seemed to be almost universally agreed that Rami Malek deserved his Best Actor wins, while both the Oscars and Baftas recognised the film’s impressive sound editing. The Golden Globes even gave the Queen Biopic ‘Best Picture’, leaving its worst critics utterly speechless. So, what made this film so successful?
Ultimately, Bohemian Rhapsody is a film with captivating performances, a spectacular soundtrack and a real sense of energy that left a lot of audience members feeling empowered and inspired. This movie united Queen fans and music lovers from all over the world; it touched so many people in ways that the other films in its category could not. The musical montages and stadium anthems that make us want to punch the air made this film the unstoppable, feelgood crowd-pleaser that people were crying out for at the end of 2018.
Bohemian Rhapsody may not be the most expertly-crafted film of the year, but its primary purpose was to entertain. Just because the biopic landed some awards (most of which were well-deserved) doesn’t mean we have to hold it to the same artistic standards as Roma or Green Book. Bohemian Rhapsody is not the kind of film that calls out for critical evaluation; it is an exhilarating musical rollercoaster; sit back and enjoy the ride. Bohemian Rhapsody may not be ‘best-picture material’, but, if you let yourself have fun, It. Will. Rock. You.
By Hannah McGreevy (IG: Talkingtelly)