Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody

Directed by Bryan Singer and screenplay by Anthony McCarten from a screen story by McCarten and Peter Morgan, Bohemian Rhapsody is the story about the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury from the formation of the band Queen to their legendary performance at Live Aid in July of 1985. The film is bio-pic that play into a man’s rise into becoming a star only for him and the band to become big while dealing with the many trappings of fame as Mercury is portrayed by Rami Malek. Also starring Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, and Tom Hollander. Bohemian Rhapsody is a drab and un-exciting film about one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century told in such poor style by Bryan Singer.

The story of Queen is probably one of the finest stories ever told in the history of rock n’ roll as a band that featured a flamboyant vocalist in Freddie Mercury along with the soaring guitar work of Brian May (Gwilym Lee), the bass work of John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and the thunderous drumming of Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) as they fused glam rock, hard rock, and progressive rock early in their career. Then in 1975, the band released A Night at the Opera that included the song Bohemian Rhapsody as they would become massive superstars in their native Britain and around the world while would spend the rest of the 70s and early 1980s reaching a worldwide audience and continue to do so until Mercury’s death in November 24, 1991 of bronchial pneumonia due to the cause of AIDS just 24 hours after he announced to the world he had AIDS. While the band’s story would be tailor made for a feature film to showcase the band’s early struggles and their many rise and falls that they would endure, this film unfortunately manages to play by the numbers and schematics expected into a bio-pic which is the opposite of what Queen are.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay focuses mainly on Mercury from the time he was working as a baggage handler at Heathrow while following a band called Smile that would feature May and Taylor in 1970 to the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985. It plays into the traditional schematics of a wannabe singer with dreams of being a band, meet the people he would form the band, fall in love with a girl or a guy, they become successful, egos become inflated, one wants to make a solo record, break-up, everything goes to shit, and the eventual reunion/redemption. Queen doesn’t follow that formula but McCarten’s script not only relies on that schematic but would also make Mercury’s life story dull and take away some of the edges that he was known for in his personal life as many of sexual exploits are only hinted superficially and not any further. At the same time, McCarten’s script seems lost in what story to tell as it relates to Mercury’s personal life and the people whom he’s close with whether it’s longtime on/off girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) whom Mercury would meet at a party as he sees Mercury for who he really is.

Then there’s Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) who was Mercury’s personal manager/assistant as he is a figure that would be a source of conflict between Mercury, the band, and those close to Mercury though he is first presented as an assistant to the band’s first manager John Reid (Aiden Gillen). Prenter is someone who is an enabler to Mercury’s vices as he would also do things to drive the wedge between Mercury and the band whether it’s through creative issues or lifestyle issues. It’s a dramatic crutch that loses sight of the real story that relates to Queen’s continuous rise but the script doesn’t dwell on the early struggles while taking some dramatic liberties into the conflict within the band over creativity. There are also moments that are baffling as it relates to historical inaccuracies and a lot of anachronisms.

If the script is a mess in its inability to find a focus on what part of the story to tell, it is nothing compared to the chaos that is in Bryan Singer’s direction. Shot mainly in Britain, the film tries to capture the spirit of the band in terms of its flamboyance and over-the-top presentation which they were known for but in all of the wrong places. Notably in the fact that Singer doesn’t do enough to make the film be dangerous as he’s confined by the PG-13 rating which is too tame for a band like Queen while he also makes some bad visual choices and dramatic moments that never felt genuine. As great as those songs are, Singer unfortunately create moments of how they create this song or that song where it felt more like sketches rather than real scenes as an excuse for those songs to be played. Even in a sequence in the creation of the film’s titular song as it is played for humor that never felt funny and instead is portrayed as awkward.

Due the chaotic presentation of the film and its inability to be unconventional, the film would have some tonal issues in the presentation where it wants to be entertaining and dramatic. Part of the reason for its tonal inconsistencies is due to the fact that Bryan Singer was fired just weeks before principal photography was finished and was replaced by Dexter Fletcher who seemed to try and create a film that is at least engaging. Unfortunately, Fletcher couldn’t clean up much of the film’s stench in some of the compositions that Singer created that includes the sequence where Queen meets with John Reid for the first time with Prenter also at the meeting. The usage of medium shots, wide shots, and close-ups in that fast-cutting style is a key scene of how bad the presentation is as it is clear Singer is trying to create something fast and to the point but it felt so wrong. Especially for the fact that the scene is set in the early 1970s just as the band had released their first album when in reality, Queen wouldn’t meet Reid until 1975 around the time they were making A Night at the Opera while Mercury and Queen wouldn’t meet Prenter until 1977 as he was part of the band’s circle until 1986 when Mercury got rid of him for good.

It’s these historical inaccuracies that really irks anyone who is familiar with Queen as Singer, Fletcher, and those involved in the post-production definitely play it safe and suggest that Queen was a success in the early years following the release of their hit single Killer Queen in 1974. That’s not exactly true as Queen didn’t become a big deal in the U.S. until a year later due to the fact that their early U.S. appearances had them opening for Mott the Hoople which was cut short due to illnesses in the band. In that sequence of them playing in the U.S., the song Fat Bottomed Girls is being played even though the song wasn’t created until 1978. The anachronisms and historical inaccuracies, which includes claims that the band broke up in 1984 which was false though they took a hiatus the year before to do other projects, definitely kill the film’s enjoyment yet it’s nothing compared to the climatic performance in Live Aid as it is extremely underwhelming in its entire presentation.

Famous for its 20-minute set of six songs, a sea of arms filling out Wembley Stadium as they clap in unison to Radio Ga-Ga. Only four of the six songs are presented while the scene which is shot in an air force base, as Wembley Stadium is no more, feels very small. Plus, its emphasis to get the perspective of the audience in the stadium, pubs, and at the homes of several people including Mercury’s family makes it an awkward experience. Overall, Singer, Fletcher, producer Graham King, producer/Queen manager Jim Beach, and 20th Century Fox create a poor and inconsequential film about the life of one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century.

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel does some fine work with the film’s cinematography in creating some of the lighting for some of the shows performed in arenas as well as some low-key lighting for a few dramatic scenes in the film. Editor/music composer John Ottman does terrible work with the film’s editing as it plays too much into chaotic editing styles where you get a few seconds of a shot rather than let a shot play out for more than 10-15 seconds including that scene of Queen meeting John Reid as it’s an example of what not to do while Ottman’s music score is mainly a collage of music from Queen as it is never memorable nor does it stick out. Production designer Aaron Haye, along with set decorators Anna Lynch-Robinson, Sarah White, and Sarah Whittle plus art directors David Hindle and Stuart Kearns, does excellent work with the look of the clubs and some of the places the characters go to including Mercury’s homes in London and Munich. Costume designer Julian Day does fantastic work with the design of some of the clothes that Mercury wear to sport his evolving fashion from the flamboyant to the leather look he would have in the early 80s.

Hair/makeup supervisor Rebecca Cole does terrific work with the evolving hairstyle and look of Mercury from the 1970s to the 1980s though the prosthetic overbite teeth that Malek has to wear as Mercury at times is visually distracting for the wrong reasons. Special effects supervisor Manex Efrem, along with visual effects supervisors Ana Grgic and Paul Norris, does some OK work with pyro for some of the stage performances though the visual effects for the crowd and the recreation of Wembley Stadium doesn’t feel right as it’s not as big to play into the magnitude of Queen’s legendary performance at Live Aid. Sound editor John Warhurst has some good moments in the sound in some of the non-musical scenes yet the way the music is mixed with the live audience never feels right nor does it feel like a live sound as it really hurts the film. Music supervisor Becky Bentham does decent work with the film’s soundtrack as it feature a bit of music from May/Taylor’s pre-Queen band Smile along with some of the music at the times though the usage of Rick James’ Super Freak at a party scene set during the late 70s when the song hadn’t even been made yet just adds to the jarring tone of the film.

The casting by Susie Figgis is wonderful in some spots as it feature some small appearances from Michelle Duncan as a journalist asking Mercury some personal questions during a press conference, Neil Fox-Roberts as Mary Austin’s deaf father, Max Bennett as Austin’s boyfriend late in the film, Jack Roth as Smile vocalist/bassist Tim Staffell, Dermot Murphy as Live Aid co-organizer Bob Geldof, Tim Plester as music producer Roy Thomas Baker, Dickie Beau as BBC radio DJ/future comedy legend Kenny Everett, Priya Blackburn as Mercury’s sister Kashmira Bulsara, Meneka Das and Ace Bhatti as in their respective roles as Mercury’s parents in Jer and Bomi Bulsara, and current Queen vocalist Adam Lambert in a lame cameo as an American trucker Mercury meets in the U.S. with all sorts of horrific beard, mustache, and trucker looker as he looks so unconvincing to play a trucker.

Mike Myers’ cameo as EMI music executive Ray Foster is one that is just distracting as he is just there to give Queen a lot of shit and be used as a plot device to motivate them to release Bohemian Rhapsody with a reference to the film Wayne’s World as it never works and only feels like useless cameo. Aaron McCusker is pretty good as Mercury’s life-partner in his final years in Jim Hutton though only appears in two scenes such as their lone meeting during the second act at the aftermath of the party and just before the film’s climax at Live Aid. Allen Leech is OK as Paul Prenter as an assistant to manager Jim Reid who would become Mercury’s personal assistant/lover who would also be Mercury’s enabler as he’s someone who is never really defined as a true person but rather a caricature that doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. Aiden Gillen is terrific as Queen’s first manager Jim Reid as someone who would help them be successful though he is underused. Tom Hollander is superb as Jim “Miami” Beech as the band’s second and permanent manager who started off handling the band’s financial, legal, and other business issues and later help them deal with conflicts and such.

Lucy Boynton is fantastic as Mary Austin as Mercury’s on-off girlfriend/muse as someone who was supportive of Mercury and helped him find himself through fashion while also being the one person to try and ground Mercury later in the film. Joseph Mazzello and Ben Hardy are excellent in their respective roles as bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor with Mazzello as the more reserved Deacon who shares Mercury in his love for funk while Hardy displays the energy of Taylor but also someone who isn’t afraid to show his opinions on things. Gwilym Lee is brilliant as guitarist Brian May who is shown as someone a bit reserved but also has some things to say as he also tries to maintain some order in the band despite some of the issues they have. Finally, there’s Rami Malek in an amazing performance as Freddie Mercury as the Queen vocalist who is a man of charisma and grandeur as Malek is able to capture all of those nuances of Mercury performance-wise but is hampered by the script in the way Mercury is presented behind the scenes at never gets the essence of who he is as it’s a flawed performance only because of the script and the shortcomings of the direction despite Malek’s effort to make Mercury interesting.

Despite some of the performances of the cast and the music of Queen that is presented, Bohemian Rhapsody is a film that is a total disservice and a major slap in the face to the legacy of Queen and its late singer in Freddie Mercury. It’s a film that plays way too by the book to create any standout moments while never doing enough to go into the edges and some of the funnier and seedier stories of the band. Plus, it’s a film that die-hard fans of Queen no question will be insulted by for its inaccuracies and dramatic liberties as it tries to do so many things only to end up being quite boring in some parts. In the end, Bohemian Rhapsody is just a tremendously horrible and insulting film from Bryan Singer and everyone else who had a hand in creating another lame bio-pic.

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

Yep. This was just so mediocre and academy voters just couldn't get past the fact that they love Queen, so they voted anyways. I'll stick with the music.

thevoid99 said...

Some of the performances were good but man, this film pissed me the fuck off. Based on that picture I posted on my review, I don't remember Brian May ever playing a Gibson Les Paul. Other than the guitar he created, I do remember him playing a few Fender Telecasters, Fender Stratocasters, and other guitars but not a Gibson Les Paul.

It's these little details that pisses me off as I read a lot of things from die-hard Queen fans and WHOA... the comments they had were vicious but they were spot-on. It's a horrible film that made me think of Walk Hard. I would've love to known what Sacha Baron Cohen was intending to do. There's so many stories about Mercury that they left off such as the time during Live Aid backstage. Mercury spent his time flirting with other performers including a baffled Bono.

Chris said...

I thought the film was tolerable and Malek believable, although was sanitized and you could question the point of spending so much monety on a Live Aid reenactment as will always be second best to Freddie's real performance. I guess the casual viewer wouldn't notice the dramatic liberties but still unfortunate wasn't accuarate and Mercury deserved a better movie. It feels like a film without risk designed to appeal to oscar voters. I can see why would anger diehard fans yet a relative in my family is a life-long Queen fan and loved the movie so I don't think every fan will hate it.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-One of my mom's cousins loved the film as did a few of my mom's friends but I couldn't enjoy it at all. I keep being reminded of other bad bio-pics. I know not every fan will hate it but I'm a die-hard fan of Queen and how safe it played it really was upsetting. Plus, there's so many stories about Queen that they left off including the stuff after Live Aid which I thought was just as interesting. Especially in the making of The Miracle and Innuendo as those were the albums were the band agreeing to not only have all the songs that each individual member wrote be fully credited to the band as they would collaborate more together on those songs and help each other with personal issues.