By John H. Foote
Critics were divided on the film, but audiences went mad for it, making it a blockbuster in the fall of last year. Though critics were very much split on the film, they were universal in their acclaim for the performance of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. I do not think anyone ever expected it to win the Golden Globe as Best Drama, but when it did the movie became a very real Oscar threat and sure enough is a Best Picture nominee.
The film is enormously enjoyable, and a sort-of honest retelling of the story of the rock band Queen, who exploded in the seventies with the song Bohemian Rhapsody, a six minute tune with rock and opera merged. While their label fought them on releasing the song as a single the band, Mercury especially, believed the youth of the time would discover the song and make it a huge hit.
He was right. In fact the song endures, still a much loved tune today.
The film is built around the performance of Malek and he is very good, creating the incarnation of Mercury throughout the film. Malek moves like Mercury, sounds like him, and above all feels like him, bringing that wounded man to the screen. However, during the incredible Live Aid recreation that makes up for the final twenty minutes of the film, the influence of the real band Queen can be felt. There are simply too many adoring looks from the band members at Mercury who by this time had revealed to them he had AIDS. Watching the real Live Aid footage, you never see the looks of loving admiration from the band, they were there to do a job. Mercury saw Live Aid as a chance to come back, to bring back Queen to the fans and he did not let them down. Music critics of the time called his performance one of the most startling live performances they had ever seen, the singer had the audience in the palm of his hand. That is true, but I am not sure the band members would have recognized what was happening beside them at the time. The surviving menbers of the band became, clearly, too involved.
That said, the recreation of Live Aid is remarkable, the band onstage in front of a sea of fans, more than 100,000 with millions more watching it live on TV around the globe.
Malek owns the film. However I wish the writers had dove deeper into the characters. Why did Mercury get a greater cut of the song writing royalties than the other band members? Why did they grow to resent his diva behaviour? It was not a surprise to them, he had always been that way.
How did the film land in the Best Picture category, win Golden Globes without a mention of the director, Bryan Singer, who was fired from the film. Now embroiled in a sex scandal involving young boys, Singer is a pariah no one wishes to be associated with. It is surprising his scandal did not drag the film down with him.
I love film biographies when they possess the courage to show the subject warts and all, to make clear their flaws which only humanize them. Instead Bohemian Rahpsody is a feel good biography, which plays like a great album, a Greatest Hits of Queen, only on film. And what a soundtrack!
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.