Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody
As a kid who came of age in the late 1970s and attended high school in the 1980s, Queen was just always there. I owned every record starting with "Jazz" and it was them who compelled me to ask "Who's that guy singing with Queen on this great song 'Under Pressure'?" and was thus introduced to David Bowie.
But I didn't know a lot about the band itself. Sure, we all knew Freddie Mercury. He was the outlandish singer who strutted around the stage with a mic and half a stand. Brian May was the awesome guitar player with a massive amount of hair whose guitar tone you could pick out of a line up. Bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor were the other two. It was rare for me to know the names of all the members of a band that wasn't KISS, but Queen fit that bill. Needless to say, I knew the band's pretty well, including the discography and dates, and I was eager to jump into this new film about the band, but centered on Freddie Mercury.
I enjoyed the film, but I'll admit that knowing the chronology so well kept jolting me out of the film with the occasional "That's not the right year" or "That song came out later."
I'm a big fan of learning how bands got together. Young Freddie Mercury, working at Heathrow airport, wants to be a singer. He stumbles into a club and sees May and Taylor playing in a band call Smile. When he mentions he writes songs, the pair pretty much shuffle him away. Until Freddie turns and belts out a few well-sung notes.
May and Taylor reconsider.
From here, the movie jumps from this crucial scene to that one. It is mostly linear, but the jumps can be a few months or a few years. With the title like "Bohemian Rhapsody," you know you'll get the recording of the song and the album from which it comes, and those scenes do not disappoint. To be honest, the more I watched this movie, the more I wanted the documentary on the band. I suppose it's out there somewhere. I'll have to look it up.
Ever since this film was announced back in 2010, I was ready for it. The original actor tapped for the role of Freddie was Sasha Baron Cohen. When I heard that, I nodded in approval. Then he dropped out and Rami Malek was cast. The guy from Night at the Museum? Maybe so. Then that first image appeared, and I knew they had cast well.
Malek portrayed Freddie Mercury so well, he won the Oscar for Best Actor. He did a splendid job, all but disappearing as himself. Rarely in the film did I think "Oh, that's Rami playing Freddie." Yeah, there are critics who think Rami didn't 100% own the role because he lip synced to Queen's music, but let's be honest: who in the world can sing like Freddie Mercury other than Freddie Mercury? That Rami nailed Freddie's on-stage antics was more than fine.
And I nailed the ending.
If you ask anyone who saw Queen what their greatest performance was, they'd say Live Aid. I remember that day--13 July 1985--very well. I woke up at six Houston time and basically did nothing but watch that broadcast all day long. Heck, David Bowie was going to perform and I'd never seen him live at that point. But when Queen came on and did what they did, my teenaged self was amazed. Who else but Queen could get a stadium full of people to sing "Radio Gaga" and clap their hands in unison? It was mesmerizing.
It was equally mesmerizing in the film. They all but performed the entire set in the movie. I loved seeing how not only the crowds but folks in bars watching all gradually got into Queen's performance. It was clearly the highlight of the film, and Rami and the rest of the actors playing Queen did so well, you'd think you were watching the real band. Speaking of other actors, it wasn't until I saw his name a few minutes ago that it dawned on me who played John Deacon. It was Joseph Mazzello. Ring a bell? He was the kid from Jurassic Park!
After the movie, my wife told us about seeing the band live here in Houston in 1977. Her descriptions of the concert opening, in darkness, to "We Will Rock You" sounded very cool. I'll have to scour YouTube to see if there are any videos of the era.
Now, I do have a criticism. When the Live Aid segment was over, the film faded to black and you read about Freddie's death from AIDS. In the film's chronology, Freddie had AIDS when Live Aid happened. My wife and I both questioned that. I don't think he did, but since the movie had the blessing of the remaining members of the band, maybe he did.
Doesn't really matter. Bohemian Rhapsody is a good film about a great band with an outstanding singer. And if nothing else, it'll make you remember and appreciate just how many awesome songs they wrote that are a part of your life.