More noise than signal

Bohemian Rhapsody

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I suppose in a lot of ways I’m the exact target audience that Bohemian Rhapsody is aiming for. I’m not a Queen fan, exactly, so I’ve next to no knowledge about the band or the personalities that made up the band, barring perhaps the tabloid sensationalism surrounding Freddie Mercury’s untimely death from AIDS complications. However, like, I think, most people, should one of their songs wander across my path I’ll happily nod along to it, the band having pulled off a remarkable trick of creating a broad appeal for some very weird songs.

I’d been turned off of this film from the general critical response of it being a rather neutered look at Queen and Mercury, allegedly also the reason Sasha Baron Cohen walked from the production some years back. And it’s true that in his place we have young Rami Malek, and a rather more PG oriented take on the characters and activities involved. Yet audiences loved this, raking in all the monies at the box office. Broad appeal, again.

You know what? Both groups are right. I’m not going to recount much of the film – it starts with a young, slightly unsure of himself Freddie on the cusp of remoulding himself as the entertainer he became meeting with Brian May and Roger Taylor, their band having just lost their lead singer, and joining up along with bassist John Deacon, to ultimately become the band we know, and quickly skipping forward to their initial success, their eventual tensions, Mercury’s estrangement and solo career, his tumultuous personal life in his later years, and their reconciliation and legendary Live Aid performance.

Warts and all documentary this in not, and I’d take pretty much everything here with a generous dose of salt. Everyone’s lovely in this film, barring one villain who may as well be twirling his moustache, and even the arguments are almost unreasonably polite. Well, it’s a British band, I suppose. Watching it with a critical eye, there’s many moments you will wish had been explored in more depth, and could sustain a film by themselves.

But if you can restrict yourself to the film that’s been made, as opposed to the one you can imagine, you’re left with a perhaps too-glossily presented, but very well crafted, hugely enjoyable anthem, and perhaps that sums up Queen as well as anything more in-depth ever could. There’s a number of very good performances in here, from the other members of Queen Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello, to Aidan Gillen’s manager and Tom Hollander’s lawyer, but Rami Malek’s extraordinary turn as Mercury eclipses them all – again, not a bad summation of Queen. It perhaps goes on a touch too long, but again, not a bad summation of Queen.

It is not, by a number of metrics, a good biographical film. It is, however, a greatly entertaining one, and not every film needs to be a harrowing nightmare reflecting the harrowing nightmare of 2018’s reality. A visit to Freddie’s world is a very welcome respite in these troubled times, and while perhaps I’m not likely to ever revisit Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s one of the more enjoyable cinematic experiences I’ve had this year. I am most pleasantly surprised.