“It’s America: They’re Puritans in public, perverts in private.” Bohemian Rhapsody (film)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

I wanted to love Bohemian Rhapsody. I really did.

One of the first 45s (remember those?) which I bought with my own money was Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” and I wore out many a needle on my little Raggedy Andy record player listening to their day-glo Flash Gordon soundtrack on endless repeat.

That said, is there a rock group of the past 40 years that is more rife with the potential for gonzo, heartbreaking baroque cinematic poignancy than Queen?! Lead singer Freddie Mercury’s out-sized public persona and haunted inner turmoil are ready-made for the kind of swirling epic that is both audience catnip and Oscar bait this time of year.

Alas, embattled director Bryan Singer is no Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, or, heck, Baz Luhrmann, and, in his hands, Bohemian Rhapsody becomes a serviceably entertaining yet never transcendent paint-by-numbers affair. A well-intentioned, well-acted Wikipedia entry.

Much has been written about Rami Malek’s transformation into Freddy Mercury. I’m not sure he quite lives up to the hype. When bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor (a sparkling Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy) steal scenes from Mercury, you may have a problem. (IRL, May and Taylor are producers on the film. Go figure.) Malek does compel as a little-boy-lost caught between cultures in love with his voice but at odds with his sexuality and his ethnicity. Yet, he never inspires in the way the real Mercury could with the mere flick of an eyebrow. Malek’s limpid banjo eyes and cumbersome prosthetic teeth are more static Al Hirschfeld caricature than true character development.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

The film is at its playful best when detailing the creation of Queen’s biggest stadium thumpers like “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” and the titular mock-opera tune. The ensemble is clearly having a ball playing dress-up and re-enacting Queen’s free-wheeling creative process. There is a fun cameo by Mike Myers as a small-minded producer baffled by the neo-classical camp charms of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (A sly wink at Myers’ Wayne’s World movie which introduced a new generation to the number, rocketing it up the pop charts once again.)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

The film is less successful when it addresses Mercury’s challenged and challenging personal life. The film wants to paint this singular misfit as an everyman, a libidinous Warholian svengali for the Jock Rock crowd. It just doesn’t quite work, alas. At one point, the band opines, “It’s America: They’re Puritans in public, perverts in private.” One wonders if that notion didn’t hang up the filmmakers as well.

There is a gut punch of a movie in Mercury’s life, a celebratory cautionary tale about creative spark, sexual impulse, and uninhibited expression. Unfortunately, Bohemian Rhapsody ain’t it. A cheap, slight K-Tel hits collection when a messy, overlong box set was required.

Oh, and, Sacha Baron Cohen, I’d still like to see your version of this story.

____________

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

15 thoughts on ““It’s America: They’re Puritans in public, perverts in private.” Bohemian Rhapsody (film)

  1. The author of this review appears to successfully live up to the review’s title. I’m pretty sure he liked the movie a lot, but had to loquaciously criticize because it’s a hit. Or because he doesn’t quite know and understand music, so he’s looking for things that are not there. If you love Queen and their music, Another One Bites the Dust is not the first record you buy – it’s the record you throw in the trash. And if all he has to say about Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) is a “mock-opera tune”, he should write about something else.

  2. The movie is good. I waited this long to see it because of reviews like this one – I shouldn’t have. You are looking for things that are not there, because apparently you don’t understand music. If you love Queen and their music, Another One Bites the Dust is not the first record you buy – it’s the record you put in the trash. And if all you have to say about Bohemian Rhapsody (the song) is “a mock opera tune”, then you should be writing about something else. To me, you successfully live up to the title of your review.

    • To the moderator: Please remove one of my comments -your pick. The first one disappeared so I wrote the second one. I looked for ways to remove it – but couldn’t find one. Thanks.

  3. I am sure there is more to the story, but…
    How much can you really say in a movie about someones’ life? Mercury had a lot of “life”; which aspect do you portray? We know he took care of Mary all his life, etc, etc.
    They did not focus on his singing abilities in particular, etc. It is sort of a review, if you will. Nicely done, great music, very entertaining and you want to go out and buy some very good Queen records.
    If you wish for more, have Freddy play Freddy…

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