Be forewarned – I’m very critical of movies about Rock bands. Too often the director has no clue about what makes a particular band touch an audience or the real-life situations they try to portray just seem to come off badly. I had high expectations about Bohemian Rhapsody. The buzz about the movie seemed to be good and I figured it would be something fun to go and see on Thanksgiving weekend. The gross receipts for the film placed it fifth, which for a movie about a 70s Rock band wasn’t bad, I thought. Granted, a movie about a rock band probably would not be the top draw simply because they were popular in the 70s and early 80s and if not for the sensationalism regarding Freddie Mercury’s sexuality this film probably wouldn’t have been made at all. I wondered to myself: “how much would people really care?”
It was a rainy, dreary Monday after Thanksgiving as I made my way to the theater. I paid the admission fee and made my way inside. I sat down and was the first one there, which I liked because I could try and get a feel for who this film might appeal to. I was there as a Rock fan and being that movies about Rock bands are few and far between, I was curious. An older couple came in and sat down and then another, then a couple who appeared to be in their 30s and rock fans. Then a single guy came in and sat by himself – popcorn and a drink in hand, followed later by three young guys who sat in the back row and that was it. So it seemed to me who this movie appealed to – older rock fans who liked Queen in the 70s and perhaps others who identified with Freddie.
The movie began showing a young Freddie trying to discover who he was (in reality he would have been around twenty-five in 1970.) He goes to see the band that would eventually become Queen playing in a basement bar and simultaneously meets a girl there who would become his girlfriend and for the next ninety minutes the movie is a pure cheese fest. There was bad acting, bad haircuts and no clue from the director (Brian Singer) on how to show the history of the band’s evolution without it looking like a rushed mess. The hokiness of the made-for-TV biopic “Def Leppard” came to mind. Lucy Boynton, who played Freddie’s girlfriend/wife Mary in the film seemed like the only credible actor, save for Allen Leach (from Downton Abbey) and even his scenes were quirky at times. From scene to scene there were just bad portrayals of the beginnings of the band – from getting flat tires out in the middle of nowhere when they magically realize they needed to sell the van to pay for making a record, to fighting with the record executives about releasing Bohemian Rhapsody as a single and Freddie’s relationship with his girlfriend/wife. Not even Mike Myers, who I’m a big fan of, prevented his scenes from looking like a bad 70s movie. I expected Kojak to roll in any minute and arrest them for bad filmmaking (it would have made a great Spinal Tap moment.) They even borrowed the scene in Def Leppard where Mutt Lange gets Joe Elliott to sing in a higher range than he thought he could to during the recording of “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, this time with Queen’s drummer:
As much as I like Def Leppard the band, the movie about their beginnings and emergence was just a poorly made docudrama. Bohemian Rhapsody director Brian Singer, who is famous for directing X-Men and similar action/comic book movies seemed clearly out of his element here and I thought seriously about getting up and walking out. When you start looking at your watch, trying to figure out how much time was left before the film ended it is not a good sign. The early scenes with music sequences were cut short. Every song was edited down with the best parts cut out and then suddenly, the scene was over. There is a scene in which Brian May (played by Gwilym Lee) is trying to lay down the solo to the title track and what you hear is an unused solo before the final solo he actually plays on record, with none of the crescendo and emotion the final solo evoked at the end. If you’re going to portray a scene in which you’re trying to demonstrate how a great song and guitar solo came to be and one that everyone who’s heard the song knows, why would you purposely leave in the wrong one? To make scenes like that but to then take the time to show how Brain May conceived “We Will Rock You” from its infancy made no sense to me. There was no point during the first ninety minutes of this film that I felt engaged in it. I started trying to come up with titles for this article because I had already reconciled to the fact that this movie was going to be really bad. “Another Thanksgiving Turkey” was my first thought followed by “Ninety Minutes of Stuffing.” To me, the only thing missing was the pumpkin pie. And so, just when I had pretty much made up my mind about this movie something strange happened – the movie got good. The acting got better, the scenes got better and for the last twenty minutes, when they focused on the music of Queen at Live Aid it became what I believed it should have been all along – a movie about the band, not a movie about Freddie Mercury’s sexual exploits and oh yeah, the rest of the group. Suddenly, the actors and the director seemed to take their craft seriously, and it showed. You cared that Freddie was getting sick, that his ex-wife was now pregnant with someone else’s child and not Freddie’s, that admittedly his life was falling apart and that he needed the rest of the guys in the band to tell him when he was being a jackass or when parts of a song needed work. He needed them as much as they needed him. When it became about the band and not just Freddie is when everything seemed to congeal. The Live Aid scenes were very good and they actually played full versions of the songs and you felt for at least a moment that it was really Queen onstage and performing the songs. Acting – what a concept! Where’s John Lovitz when you need him? Still, actors trying to look like they actually play their instruments always come off with them looking a little bit stiff because they’re not musicians and they aren’t “feeling it” but Lee almost manages to pull it off (with Brian May’s coaching.) I can’t say the same for Joseph Mazzello as bassist John Deacon. I thought one of the bright spots in the movie “Rock Star” was that they had actual musicians playing in the band (Zakk Wylde and Jeff Pilson) which made the film seem more realistic. It’s probably easier for a musician to act than for an actor to play a musician. Musicians, especially singers have to entertain and put on an act all the time.
In comparison, other Rock biopics have been better and worse. Oliver Stone did a much better job directing “The Doors” film than Singer could have hoped to. I would probably rate that at the top of rock band films. For a non-Doors fan to like a movie about The Doors is an accomplishment – this should have been Singer’s goal. It turns out Singer was fired part-way through the movie supposedly for not showing up at times and for fighting with actor Rami Malek. He was replaced by Newton Thomas Sigel, which to me explains the disjointedness of this film. To me, the film should have been a celebration of the band’s music and taking the focus away from that and putting it primarily on Freddie’s personal relationships detracted from what should have been a Rock fan’s delight. “Bohemian Rhapsody” to me fits somewhere in between “Def Leppard” and “Rock Star”. I liked elements of “Rock Star”. “Def Leppard”? Not so much. So, to rate this film I would have to say that being that it took ninety minutes for the movie to grab me, it was not worth the money I spent on a theater ticket so I put this in the “Rental” category. If you have nothing better to do on a Saturday night go ahead and rent/stream it, otherwise it’s a “Skipper.”