Friday, February 22, 2019


(Other Best Picture Nominees considered so far: Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, BlackKkKlansman, and The Favourite.)

Bohemian Rhapsody. I've often said that the biopic is an intrinsically minor artform, and that only extremely rare exceptions bend the curve. Bohemian Rhapsody looks good and moves with some of the strut and glide of Queen's music, but it has all the traditional biopic problems -- for example, outside the star, there are no real characters. Credit Tom Hollander for sneaking a hint of dry humor into his lawyer/manager Jim "Miami" Beach (and Mike Myers -- had me fooled!), but everyone else is a cipher. Maybe it's because they're all still alive and could make trouble but the movie bandmates don't give us anything besides the most pro-forma behind-the-music moments: The lightbulb that's-a-great-riff! moments, the Freddie-you've-gone-too-far moments, etc. Even Mercury's female "love of my life" Mary never shows any feelings but Freddy-related feelings, and out of a regrettable soap opera at that. What if they'd been a little playful about it? When Freddie says "I think I'm bisexual" and Mary says, "you're gay," didn't anyone on the set realize how funny that is? I was laughing, anyway.

In fact all the stuff about Freddie's sexuality is weirdly fraught -- I haven't seen a leather scene like that since Cruising. (Wait'll they make the Rob Halford biopic!) Well, the closet can do strange things to a man and, given his background, Mercury was particularly [cue the music!] under pressure from both directions -- pushed not to go too far for obvious social reasons, but compelled to reveal what was going on inside himself for artistic reasons. That's a lot to take on and I can hardly blame Bryan Singer,  the superhero-movie director of a big-budget can't-miss biopic (who has some issues himself), for deciding that the answer is the true love of a decent bloke you can bring home to your stereotypically uptight immigrant dad. But sweet as that is, judging by his music I bet that wasn't all Freddie Mercury was going for.

But if the script doesn't show us, at least Rami Malek's performance is able to suggest it. There have been a lot of jokes about Rami Malek's dental prosthesis doing the acting for him, but like any good actor Malek makes the thing work for the character -- sometimes the teeth are a totems of his fears and sorrows, something to hide and brood over, and sometimes they're the prow of a proud ego-ship steaming late into rehearsal. And despite being 90% of the movie, Malek's Freddie is still able to remain a little mysterious -- even in the cliche good-love and bad-love scenes, you can feel that he's protecting something inside himself -- his heart, maybe, or his ego, or his talent; something, in any case, that can't stand too much handling. Whether at the top of his game or the height of his madness, that makes Mercury vulnerable and lovable and fascinating, and not just someone we're staring at because he's famous. For a biopic that's an achievement.

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