Bohemian Rhapsody ★★

I don't like Queen* but even I think they deserved a better movie than this, to the extent that I'm surprised a couple of band members appear to have been involved in and approved of its production, given that it seems such a generic, paint-by-numbers portrait of a classic rock career awash in clichés, a film that only gains and charms its audience because of their preexisting attachment to the music it evokes. It's common in a project like this to think that the director is on easy street because the music, and the attendant cultural signifiers, will do a lot of the work; the problem is that Bryan Singer and whoever replaced him when he was fired appear to have taken this to heart by neglecting to do any work whatsoever: no research, no storytelling, not even any determination to make sure the thing functions as cinema, because they correctly surmised ($870 million and counting) that the film would be popular whether they bothered with any of that or not, but how depressing that this would be enough for any artist, deplorable human being or not! It wouldn't be so embarrassing if the standard biopic template had been approached competently -- that at least would've left room for some of Queen's, and Freddie Mercury's, unique character to come through in some unforced fashion -- but what's astounding is how amateurish the film feels, in terms of pacing, editing, acting (despite, aesthetically, very good casting), mood and character. My friend Ashley noted in her review that it "looks like it was shot and edited by film students on cheap equipment," and that really gets at the essence of how bewildering the whole thing is as an entity. It feels like a bad sketch comedy show's approximation of what this movie about Queen would look like -- cheap, simplistic and pandering. I know some critics would say it's therefore a logical match for Queen as a band, but I have some inkling that that larger-than-life music was made by human beings, and if you're going to deny that, at least be playful about it.

As to the specifics of Queen's story, even I was jarred by a bunch of the anachronistic leaps around and the skeletal attempts at pre-AIDS dramatic conflict -- whether true or not, the scenes in the EMI office felt especially inauthentic, like they were constructed from drunken Behind the Music interviews; also, surely EMI of all labels would've remembered that the Beatles' biggest hit was 7+ minutes! -- and I'm deeply suspicious of the way Mercury's love life was handled. From my distant perspective, something that always inspired me about him was how loud and proud he was, if not about his sexuality than certainly about existing in his own skin... and that joy is almost totally absent from the film and from Malek's performance until the rousing (but still incompetently edited) Live Aid sequence. As so often in Hollywood movies, queerness is shown as, at bottom, a tragedy -- and you can't claim that it's simply a matter of accuracy to the period when Mercury's internal conflict is positioned around his lack of attraction to a specific woman he loves, and when the third act builds itself around an idealized, neutered gay romance in lieu of the orgiastic fucking, not that we see any, that's coded as evil seeping into Freddie's life. One wonders first of all how such hedonism would be treated in a modern biopic of a straight rock star -- I suspect with just as much tsk-tsking but far more indulgence and considerably less shaming, since this movie is able to coyly draw a line directly from that phase of Mercury's life to his untimely death -- and second of all if this was Singer working out his demons in front of a billion people, in which case ew... and also, you know who never did that, who cared intensely about his audience and even loved them? Freddie Mercury.

* = I don't intensely dislike them either, their brand of impersonal bombast just isn't my style of rock & roll or melodrama, both of which are things I broadly love