No “Live Aid” here
When I was 13, I wanted so badly to watch Live Aid, a benefit concert for hunger relief in Africa. Our family didn’t have cable TV, but our neighbors did. I asked if I could come over and they said sure, because they would be away for the weekend. I showed up bright and early at 6 a.m.
Coming from a family that favored classical music, I played my rock music quietly in my room, and I had never even been to a rock concert live. When British superstar musicians pooled their talents as Band Aid to write “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and their U.S. counterparts released “We Are the World,” I was ecstatic because I never really thought of rock and roll being able to make a difference.
I was mesmerized during Live Aid, watching U2, David Bowie, and the Who for the first time. But it was Queen that stole the show. Led by energetic lead singer Freddie Mercury, Queen delivered what many critics have called the greatest live performance in rock history.
Now that performance is at the climax of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, which chronicles Queen’s beginnings, rise to stardom, and eventual infighting. While thoroughly entertaining, Bohemian Rhapsody never reaches the creative heights of its subject matter.
The movie wisely highlights the charismatic Mercury (played by Rami Malek), as he leads the Queen from a bar band to one that eventually sold out arenas worldwide. Mercury’s flair for theatrics, coupled with a passion to succeed and entertain, led to the creation of the iconic song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which stretched the limits of what radio stations would play but became an iconic hit.
Just like Mercury became the focal point of the band, his character also drives the movie. Freddy’s ambition and willingness to take artistic risks makes the band both popular and unique. As with pretty much all rock and roll biopics, however, things start to fall apart. The movie portrays Mercury’s excessive partying, and self-indulgence as leading to the band’s near self-destruction.
While this makes for interesting viewing, it doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen already. It comes across as a theatrical episode of VH1’s Beyond the Music. In a story about a band that liked to take risks, the script takes none, yielding a formulaic story. This is especially frustrating given the pedigree of the crew, including director Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects), and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who wrote the script for last year’s best picture nominee The Darkest Hour, and was nominated himself for best adapted screenplay for The Theory of Everything.
For newcomers to Queen’s music and story, the movie will be a decent entryway. For diehard fans, however, the movie will be frustrating. While all “based on a true story” movies use dramatic embellishments, Bohemian Rhapsody takes way too many liberties. The movie plays up Mercury’s solo career as the impetus of the band’s downfall, when in fact the band never truly broke up until Mercury’s death in 1991; Mercury wasn’t even the first band member to put out a solo album.
The movie also pretends that Mercury found out he was HIV-positive right before the Live Aid performance, which was portrayed in the movie as a sort of swan song. In reality, Mercury learned he was HIV-positive two years after Live Aid, which, while quintessential, was not Queen’s last performance. With a character as rich as Mercury – and the fact that the surviving band members served as consultants – the inaccuracies seem unnecessary.
While the script has its faults, Malek deserves kudos for his portrayal of Mercury. Malek sought out a movement coach in order to capture all of Mercury’s shuffles, twists and gestures. Malek did his homework and brought Mercury to life, in spite of the script’s shortcomings.
Bohemian Rhapsody worth a view but I’m going to set a dollar limit of $4 person. $4.01 is too high. It’s a pleasant diversion for over two hours but lacks true substance. For real emotion, you’re better off watching the band’s Live Aid performance from 1985.
2 out of 4 stars; Rated PG-13 for language, suggested elements, drug use. Mom and Dad: No.