Rami Malek tries to “break free” from Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, a su­per­fi­cial, moral­is­tic and sani­tised ver­sion of a gay icon’s life. By Jeremy Smith

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT #227 -

TAKE ONE of the great­est rock stars of all time, Fred­die Mer­cury. Cast an enig­matic ris­ing star, Rami Malek. Add a cliched script and some by-the-num­bers di­rect­ing and what do you get? A film that reads like a Wikipedia en­try.

Fred­die Mer­cury was full of rich con­tra­dic­tions – great stuff for sto­ry­tellers and film­mak­ers, but Bo­hemian Rhap­sody never takes us even re­motely close to Mer­cury the man. In­stead, we get a good imi­ta­tion of Mer­cury the per­former. Blame for this dis­ap­point­ing, missed op­por­tu­nity should be laid at the feet of its trou­ble direc­tor, Bryan Singer.

After a decade of pro­duc­tion trou­bles, Singer was fired half­way through the shoot due to “ab­sences from the set” and after clashes with the star. Malek puts in a com­mand­ing per­for­mance and is the best part of an oth­er­wise lack­lus­tre film.

Dex­ter Fletcher re­placed Singer to fin­ish the film and was given an Ex­ec­u­tive Pro­ducer credit. Pop­bitch re­ports Fletcher telling an as­sis­tant that the role of the EP was to “haul the direc­tor out of gay sex cin­e­mas when a de­ci­sion needs to be made”.

Other re­views have com­plained that Mer­cury has been “straight-washed”. This is not the case. He’s very out and very gay, but this fam­ily

Naughty gays lead poor Fred­die astray. Then he be­came HIV-pos­i­tive. You do the maths on what the film is sug­gest­ing here.

friendly film sani­tises his life – there is no gay sex on screen.

There are oblique ref­er­ences to his wild ex­cesses – crazy, drug-fu­elled par­ties, anony­mous sex and mul­ti­ple part­ners, but these are quickly fol­lowed by moral­is­tic judge­ments about his be­hav­iour. The film wants us to think that Fred­die’s “life­style” made him un­happy. There is plenty of ev­i­dence that this was not the case.

A vil­lain­ous gay manger and naughty gay party friends lead poor Fred­die astray. Then he be­comes HIV-pos­i­tive. You do the maths on what the film is sug­gest­ing here.

The bad di­a­logue, the made-for-TV di­rect­ing and the ab­sence of any real un­der­stand­ing of Mer­cury the man could all be for­given ex­cept for the fact that the film is so joy­less and moral­is­tic – ev­ery­thing Fred­die wasn’t. He was leg­en­dar­ily de­bauched yet, ev­ery time the film gets close to show­ing his fun side, it un­der­cuts it with a moral­ity les­son.

Worst of all, the film brings his HIV di­ag­no­sis for­ward two years early than the truth – and this is done cyn­i­cally to co­in­cide with Queen’s leg­endary Live Aid per­for­mance, mak­ing a ham-fisted point about “de­fi­ance in the face of his ill­ness” etc.

The best scenes are when Malek is on stage mak­ing love to the au­di­ence, par­tic­u­larly at Live Aid. It’s a good per­for­mance by a tal­ented ac­tor in a film that doesn’t ex­plore its pro­tag­o­nist with any depth or, to be frank, hon­esty. Don’t ex­pect to see the real Fred­die here. There’s very lit­tle bo­hemian and not much rhap­sody.

De­spite the over­all bad re­views, the film suc­ceeds by ex­ploit­ing the power of Queen’s mu­sic. Their an­themic, feel-good pub rock keeps the toes tap­ping and buoy what is an oth­er­wise medi­ocre movie. Plus, the re­cre­ation of Queen’s per­for­mance at Wem­b­ley dur­ing Live Aid pulls all the right levers on the emo­tional dial.

There is a bet­ter Fred­die Mer­cury movie yet to be made. Fred­die de­serves it.

On the up side, you could take your nan to Bo­hemian Rhap­sody and leave with a happy tear in your eye and your mid­dle-class moral­ity in­tact.

Fred­die only hosted one party and no­body en­joyed it – if you be­lieve Bo­hemian Rhap­sody.

The real Fred­die and Queen: pop leg­ends.

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