As always, Spoiler Alert.
Queen is one of those bands that I can listen to with admiration, and an understanding of how important and influential to the music world they are, and in awe of their skill and talent … but I don’t really like them all that much. I enjoy a few of their songs – Radio Gaga leaps to mind, and Who Wants To Live Forever is a personal favourite – but I have to say I press ‘skip’ on the iPod when their music comes up in the shuffle far more often than I listen to it.
So I wasn’t all that interested in seeing Bohemian Rhapsody. In fact, I probably still wouldn’t have, except Ron’s a Queen fan, and picked it up.
I’m glad he did.
I’d heard the film was mostly a series of scenes of the band figuring out a new song in the studio and then playing it to great success in front of an audience. And to be sure, there are multiple times that happens.
But there’s a lot more to Bohemian Rhapsody than the music. True, it being a biopic as opposed to a documentary, it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt. But if you keep that in mind and approach it as entertainment rather than information, it certainly tells a good story.
Some of it is very hard to watch. As someone who was a teenager in the ’80s, it’s difficult to revisit the AIDS epidemic of that time, and remember the fear and pain I felt as so many died from this horrible disease, while many others said they deserved it because they were gay. (I’ll never forget the time my father informed me that he hadn’t cared about AIDS as long as ‘the queers’ were the only ones getting it, but now that it was affecting ‘normal’ people like him, it mattered.) And the abusive relationship between Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), where Mercury is slowly isolated from his friends and goes into a self-destructive tailspin, makes me angry every time.
But balancing that is the lovely relationship between Mercury and Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). They start out in a romantic relationship, but after their marriage fails, remain close friends, even living next door to each other. As someone whose relationship has followed a similar trajectory – although we’ve gone so far as to continue to live together – I appreciate a film that portrays a break up that doesn’t involve screaming and shouting and throwing things, and undying hatred at the end of it all.
I have to say, I didn’t get the biggest joke of the film until I’d seen it half-a-dozen times. Mike Myers plays Ray Foster, a completely fictional character, who argues against using Bohemian Rhapsody as the first release from Queen‘s new album because it’s not, ” … the kind of song teenagers can crank up the volume in their car and bang their heads to.”
Myers, of course, created the Saturday Night Live character Wayne Campbell, who went on to great fame in the Wayne’s World movies specifically for headbanging to that very song. Ron’s reaction when I paused the movie to tell him I’d finally gotten the joke was worth the embarrassment of admitting it had taken me that long.
But the real gem of Bohemian Rhapsody is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. It takes genius to capture genius, and that’s precisely what Malek achieves, no more so that in the Live Aid finale.
Again, being a child of the ’80s, I vividly recall the famine in Africa that ultimately spawned the massive Live Aid fundraiser concert. I do not, however, recall the concert itself. I expect it only aired on cable, which I didn’t have growing up, so I wouldn’t have had access to it. So it was really interesting to me, all these years later, to finally ‘see’ a performance from that day – because even though it was a recreation, it’s pretty clear it was spot-on. I’ve read that Malek watched Queen‘s Live Aid performance 1000 times before filming this sequence, as well as hiring a movement coach, and it shows.
In the scene where the band develops We Will Rock You, Brian May (Gwilym Lee) says he wants to, ” … give the audience a song that they can perform.” (Goal accomplished, I’d say. I remember when we were kids, sitting in the living room and hearing one of my brothers in the basement, pounding out the song’s beat on the ping pong table and singing the “We Will Rock You” lyric into a pipe for amplification, and it was just the most amazing thing to hear.)
I think that, ultimately, may be a big factor in why I don’t care for Queen. Their real strength, I think, was in their live performances, and I never had a chance to see them. I could be wrong, of course, but I also know that my normal answer to silly online quizzes that ask things like, “What band would you travel back in time to see,” is Linkin Park.
But for a day or so after watching Bohemian Rhapsody, my answer changes to Queen.
To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.