I like Queen. I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fan but when my parents bought me my first CD player back in around 1992 the first CD album I bought was Queen’s Greatest Hits Vol 2. I also wouldn’t say that I’m really familiar with the Queen backstory but I have seen a few documentaries on Freddie Mercury and Live Aid so I was interested to see what the film’s take on it was and I have to say I was quite disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, Rami Malek is very good as Freddie Mercury and the supporting cast are also good (side note: did anyone else think that Joseph Mazzello who plays John Deacon looks a bit like a young Lee Mack? No? Just me then) but there’s no real substance to the film and it really feels like a two hour advert for Queen’s music and, by extension, the We Will Rock You musical.
The story starts with Freddie Mercury meeting up with Roger Taylor and Brian May literally seconds after their lead singer left which didn’t happen (read May’s account of how they met here) and from this point on the story lurches from liberty to liberty mashing together events that could never had co-existed at the same time for the sake of artistic licence.
Parts of the story that would have been truly interesting such as Mercury’s descent into his drug-fulled hedonistic lifestyle, the real relationship between “super-villain” Paul Prenter and Mercury (the film really twists the timeline about with this aspect of the story) and the real relationship between Mercury and the put-upon Mary Austin (it took him 5 months to ask her out, not a few days) are glossed over or are so far removed from truth that you wonder why they are included at all.
I know that films have to cram in a lot in a limited time frame but given that they used 20 minutes of the film for the Live Aid recreation I think this could have been cut down to allow for more story and place things in the proper order that they actually happened – I mean that’s not too much to ask is it? Surely a film that’s about real people and real events should be told in a relatively truthful manner or have a whacking great big disclaimer at the start. For example, the band didn’t break up in 1983 when Freddie signed the solo deal – in fact they released an album in 1984, Freddie didn’t find out he was HIV positive until well after Live Aid took place (some put it at least 2 years after) and boyfriend Jim was a hairdresser not a waiter – and these are just some minor discrepancies that I’ve highlighted.
While the Live Aid portion of the show is great, unless you have seen the original version (which I am assuming most people under 40 won’t have) then it won’t really mean anything to you. Afterwards I thought given how accurate the recreation was it would have been nice to cut between the real and recreated version to show Mercury’s personality and the accuracy of Malek’s performance.
Speaking of Malek’s performance, I found it rather flat. While not a hugely expressive character when off stage, Mercury did show emotion in his voice (see the interview below) but Malek shows very little inflection and it’s all quite on one level – almost emotionless really which I don’t think does Mercury justice.
Additionally, in the credits all songs are listed as being performed by Queen so I basically spent 2 hours of my life watching Lip Sync Battle. In fact I might as well have watched Paul Rudd AKA Ant-Man do a Freddie Mercury impression… oh, hang on… by the power of the internet I bring you Paul Rudd singing Queen in a Lip Sync Battle!
When you consider that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspon recreated all of Johnny Cash’s and June Carter’s songs for Walk The Line that’s what you call a proper biopic and sort of what I was expecting – after all so much was made of choosing Remi Malek after Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out/was dropped that I guess I expected a “full Mercury” performance.
Considering that the film took almost 10 years to make I’m surprised that it turned out the way it did – of course Brian May and Roger Taylor came out looking good (they were executive producers after all) and John Deacon gets some credit for the creative input he had into Queen’s hits I think it does Freddie a bit of a disservice. While a “warts and all” film may not be to everyones taste whitewashing over the majority of his behaviour doesn’t really tell us the man he was, only the view that others want to present.
Overall, I think the film was a huge missed opportunity that didn’t really take itself seriously I mean, Mike Myers’ Ray Foster (another character that didn’t exist) saying that Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t any good? You’re seriously going to go there?
The directing was lazy and by-the-book but I guess that’s bound to happen when the director (Bryan Singer) goes AWOL and gets fired half-way through filming (Dexter Fletcher of “Press Gang” fame had to finish the film but doesn’t seem to get any credit anywhere)
The best scene in the film was a recreation of an actual piece of film so didn’t really need any direction and the “clever’ zoom under the piano and through Freddie’s legs to focus on May’s guitar solo was super-contrived (Was this Singer or Fletcher? We’ll have to wait for the Blu-Ray extras folks!) but about the only original aspect of the piece. The one shining light were the production values, they really captured the tone of the time from the costumes and hair to the kitsch gaudiness of Mercury’s home and that was the one aspect of the film I did admire.
Oh, and one final gripe (among the many I haven’t even covered): are you seriously trying to tell me that no one called in to pledge any money until Queen went on the stage as the film hints at? There were 15 acts before Queen took to the stage including Dire Straits, Sade and Sting And Phil Collins and not one of those could raise one red cent? (Insert massive raspberry noise here).
So, my final verdict: Lazy, Lying and Listless – it’s more like one of those cheap movies they put out on the Hallmark Channel or True Movies rather than a “Hollywood Blockbuster”.
Should you watch this film? If it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and you have a basket of ironing to do it will provide an adequate backdrop but I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch it – especially if you’re a Queen fan as I think you’ll get quite annoyed with the way the story’s laid out.
My only hope is that the upcoming Elton John biopic “Rocketman” doesn’t fall foul of the same lack of integrity – but who knows as it’s directed by none other than a certain Dexter Fletcher (small world, eh?) however there’s one main difference in that the star – Taron Egerton – actually sings all of the musical numbers in the film himself.
Now, that’s a proper musical biopic I want to see.
Added bonus: There’s a running joke through Bohemian Rhapsody about Roger Taylor’s song “I’m in love with my car” I have to say it’s truly awful and no wonder they take the piss out of it
Do you agree with me? Let me know in the comments what you thought of the film.