Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody ½

Alright, this is gonna be a long one. And I should start it by saying a few things. Queen is one of my favorites bands of all time, may even be my single favorite band. I think Mercury was not only a genius but a transgressive icon that changed the world around him. And I am well aware of the difficult journey to get the surviving members of the band, especially Brian May and Roger Taylor, to agree with various filmmakers on the direction of a Queen biopic.

With that out of the way, I'll say this: Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the angriest experiences I have ever had the absolute displeasure of having in a theater. Not because it's a bad movie, in fact, it's an absolutely atrocious one, but because of how it treats its subjects. But I'll start with the less personal criticisms.

I know a lot of praise has been given to Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury, and to give the actor credit, he pulls off the physicality of Mercury's hypersexualized stage presence quite well...in the trailer for the film. Another victim of having two very different directors putting together about 50% of the film each, Bohemian Rhapsody is stitched together with so much reckless abandon and carelessness that I could only assume the editor was on the receiving end of major brain surgery the entire time he was screwing around in the Avid file (because of course this movie would be edited on Avid because anything outside of a very strict norm, the reasoning for which is long forgotten, is completely out of this film's cinematic vocabulary). I cannot accurately speak on Malek's performance, or any of the performances, because the camera is allowed nothing other than the requisite information to cobble together a Wikipedia plot summary's worth of a movie with no emotion, subtext, or care. While that is a major disappointment, many films have gotten away with being a skeleton of the film they should be. But when the film's script and direction is so scattershot and sloppy that every piece of information placed in the frame or in the mouths of its characters feels scrambled together and out of place, the skeleton just becomes a pile of dissembled bones lying dormant on the floor of a high school science classroom. To add insult to injury, the film is so obscenely proud of its main character being attracted to the same sex that it will stop the film at multiple occasions to wax poetic about the struggles of being gay in terms so watered down and disingenuous that they wouldn't have even shocked the puritan family from The VVitch.

A lot of this film is watered down, or completely broken apart and put back together with the wrong parts, but no element as much as its lead character, Freddy Mercury. I have never assumed a film to be historically accurate, that's an unrealistic desire, but when a movie wants to tell the story of a once-living individual, I expect the character to not be the complete opposite of that individual. Freddy Mercury, as Bohemian Rhapsody knows, is an infantile, obnoxious, easily manipulated, narcissistic dolt with the emotional intelligence of a stillbirth's placenta. There have been serial killers more compelling than this film's rendition of Freddy Mercury. When the film then tries to sell the audience on the idea that Mercury, despite being the scum of the earth, is little more than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl with no personality that exists for the sole purpose of uniting the world in harmony over music, it is a uniquely upsetting experience.

Bohemian Rhapsody uses the music of Queen the same way I drink water. It's the building block, but just a puddle of water is not interesting when it has already been consumed and excreted by somebody else, and I feel like every word of that metaphor is valid. The movie's pace is slowing down? Throw in 30 seconds of one of the most recognizable pieces of popular music ever written, that'll cheer the audience up. The audience is getting bored by the childish antics of its leads? Throw in a few choruses; be sure to cut around the verses because they're not as easily identifiable. This isn't traditionally lazy filmmaking. This is filmmaking so callous that a stronger emotional bond would have been elicited by spitting on the lens before action was called.

Jukebox musicals have never been high art, they try to replicate the feeling of live performance on film, and attempts like Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages have fallen very flat. But very few musicals...very few films have fallen as flat as Bohemian Rhapsody. I know I must sound very hyperbolic but trust me when I say this is the tame, professional version of my thoughts. This film is little more than a pavlovian exercise in musical recognition with a few hasty "scenes" of "character" "development" strewn throughout to pad out the trailer.

I was frowning during Don't Stop Me Now. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, nothing will.

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