Friday 15 February 2019

Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

If you're one of the 12 people on Earth still to see it, will Bohemian Rhapsody rock you now that it's on Blu-ray and VOD? Here's my review.

The long-awaited biopic of Freddie Mercury and Queen arrived last year to much fanfare, and has gone on to woo audiences but divide critics. One fired director, a Golden Globe Best Picture win and five Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) later, Bohemian Rhapsody is now available on home formats – so I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

Theoretically, a biopic about one of the greatest frontmen of all time soundtracked by some of the greatest rock songs of all time should be a home run. Freddie Mercury (here played by Rami Malek, complete with false teeth) was a forceful stage presence, and the band's back catalogue is iconic, packed with banger and banger.

The film chronicles the Queen's rise and fall, culminating in the triumphant Live Aid concert in 1985. Milestones along the way – such as the band releasing the song 'Bohemian Rhapsody', touring the United States for the first time and playing sellout concerts to tens of thousands are slavishly recreated, especially the finale – it's essentially a 20-minute shot-for-shot redo of Queen's iconic Live Aid performance. All of this is soundtracked to some of the band's greatest hits – 'I Want To Break Free', 'Killer Queen', 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' and others.

But that's all this film is; a greatest hits album. It's a series of montages masquerading as a motion picture. Narratively, it's a mess, with Mercury's life manhandled and contorted to fit the plot. Visually, it looks terrible, with the recreated concerts awash with flat, soulless visual effects, not to mention chopped to bit by some terrible editing. And that's all before we get to the film's biggest crime.

You see, Bohemian Rhapsody does its central figure a great disservice. Mercury's sexuality is treated  as delicately as a bulldozer and is completely bereft of nuance. His homosexuality is framed as misguided waywardness, with those around him – such as manager and lover Paul Prenter (Allan Leech) – depicted as a coercive villain who leads him down a dark path.

Freddie embracing his sexuality and 'coming out' coincides with alcohol abuse, drug addiction and hedonistic parties (all PG of course). His steady, stable and sensible heterosexual bandmates are the dependable friends that he's straying from; the gay nightclubs he frequents are dark, grimy and unwholesome. His eventual AIDS diagnosis and death is seen as his punishment; rejoining the band he abandoned and performing at Live Aid is some kind of sick penance or self-sacrifice. Essentially, it's fucked.

This approach robs the film of nuance or complexity; the intrigue of Freddie discovering his sexuality in the 1970s should've been the film's emotional core – instead it's breezed past and ignored. The band's ascent from nobodies to stardom is rushed too – by the end of the first act, they're already an established international act.

The film explores very little of how Queen's biggest songs came to be – each new song is treated like a 'eureka' moment where everything slots together in seconds. And key characters or dates in Freddie's life are twisted or omitted to fit, such as his AIDS diagnosis being moved before Live Aid (just one of the myriad changes).

Bohemian Rhapsody's success is easily explained; people love Queen, especially people of a certain age. For them, Freddie Mercury was a legend struck down in his prime. This film, and especially its soundtrack, is a rose-tinted blast from the past – a glossy, simplified, dumbed-down throwback. But let's not mistake Queen's memorable lyrics and catchy hooks with quality filmmaking, because this film stinks.

The Verdict: 2.5/10

Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the worst films of 2018 and a mess on every conceivable level. Even Malek's performance – which is destined to earn him an Oscar statuette next week – is more of a caricature than compelling. He belongs on the Oscar shortlist for sheer dedication, but isn't a patch on some of the other nominees.

Bohemian Rhapsody is still in cinemas across Australia, and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.

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