Here’s the thing: Bohemian Rhapsody was never going to be just a movie for me. How could it, when I waited for it for close to ten years? (I remember when they first announced plans for the movie, the only candidate I could think of to play Freddie Mercury was Mika. He has a similar vibe, a good range, and he also has a Freddie Mercury reference in his song “Grace Kelly”.) I waited for it, I speculated about it, I obsessed about it. So yes, it was always going to be an event for me.
It finally happened – I’m slightly mad
I excitedly watched the London premiere live on Facebook but after the feed ended, I had a sobering thought: this is it. This is the last moment that the movie will be an unknown. All those years of anticipation, wishing, and speculation are over. Will the movie actually be good?
I woke up the next morning eager to find out what the critics thought, and was gobsmacked by the scathing reviews. I was disappointed because I wanted it to be a perfect movie, and part of that perfection was the critics loving it. But it didn’t change my mind and I bought tickets as soon as they became available.
That first moment hearing the rocked out Fox fanfare (with Brian May and Roger Taylor on guitar and drums), and then hearing Freddie’s “Hey hey hey!” as the credits rolled, brought goosebumps immediately. But I watched in a state of tension because I was waiting to see what the criticism was all about.
And admittedly, within the first few minutes, I saw some of the flaws, with the early scenes between Freddie and Mary Austin being the worst offenders. The transitions were clunky, and there were so many awkward pauses which the director probably thought would add drama but only came out clumsy. It was all wasted opportunity – instead of exchanging countless silent looks that did not mean anything, couldn’t Freddie and Mary have had dialogue that would establish the kind of relationship they had and why it was so special? Too much focus was put on Mary in those early scenes, but they only came across as dead weight.
This was my biggest problem with the movie. Apparently those early scenes were the ones replacement (and uncredited) director Dexter Fletcher had to cobble together after Brian Singer was fired. I thought that with all the Singer allegations and drama, Fletcher would be able to patch things together. Sadly it did not work out. But the first twenty minutes were my only issue with the movie (not counting the Live Aid introduction of course). Once the action moved away from Mary Austin and on to the band and the music, it was all back on track.
I realized that my biggest concern coming into it was all about Freddie. (He’s always going to be just “Freddie”, right? It may sound too familiar, but his legend is such that we feel he belongs to us.) Would they get him right? Would they treat him with respect? Rami Malek put all those fears to rest. Yes, he got Freddie right, and he treated him with respect. I didn’t see an actor impersonating Freddie, I actually saw Freddie. As much as we all know Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant and larger than life performer, it was in the quiet moments that Malek brought him to life. In a later scene, when Freddie has moved in to his mansion, basking in all his fame and fortune, he spends a moment to call Mary (who’s moved in next door) and ask her to turn on the lights so he could see them from his window. Malek effectively shows us the little boy inside who still feels so vulnerable and alone and who probably never forgot the homesickness he felt after being sent to school halfway across the world at seven. More than showcasing the legend and the icon, Malek shows us Freddie’s humanity.
And that Live Aid scene? Twenty minutes of pure joy. Who knew that “Radio Ga Ga” could make one cry? But that’s exactly what it did – I was so moved that tears were falling freely down my face for those last few moments.
I read one comment on Twitter that bashed that scene, questioning why anyone would want to watch it when the original video is available for everyone to see. Well, I know a few reasons. In the movie, our vantage point is that of a fan in the audience. For a few brief moments, you forget that you are watching a video or movie – you feel like you’re actually in the field at Wembley. The second time I watched the movie was at an IMAX theater, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. There was no one beside me so I did the “Radio Ga Ga” claps to my heart’s content. I’ve always wished I could have been at Live Aid, and this movie was the closest I had to fulfilling that dream. The third time at the cinema was a sing-along version, and we hoped that the lyrics on screen would correctly prompt the audience in the “Ay-Oh” call and response. And they did. We duetted with Freddie! (Yes, I watched the movie three times, and it would’ve been a higher number if it weren’t for such pesky things as having to buy food and pay the bills.)
When we found out that Live Aid was the last scene, Chloe and I thought that the best way for that to work would be if the movie were bookended by a glimpse of the concert at the start, with flashbacks leading up to the ultimate set. And we got our wish! Hearing the opening lines of “Somebody to Love” at the start, those dramatic shots of the band’s equipment, seeing fake U2 as they climbed down from the stage (what a bonus), and seeing Freddie’s back – all that got us choked up.
In fact, the attention to detail was amazing, that it was shocking to see Malek use the wrong hand to adjust the piano. How could the filmmakers miss that? I only hope that there is footage somewhere showing Freddie using his right hand as Malek did, because that was the only flaw (if you can call it that) I saw in the practically perfect recreation of that concert.
You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you
I spent the weeks after first seeing the movie looking for all the reviews I could find. Critics hated it, but fans loved it. I took every negative critique personally, and I was tempted to engage them all on Twitter. But I held back and had imaginary fights with them instead. When I found other fans who were more articulate than me, I simply retweeted their responses. And it brought me intense satisfaction to see the critics vs fans debate blow up, to the extent that critics felt compelled to defend their reviews. I felt like a villain watching everything blow up around me. Awful, isn’t it?
What seemed to bug the critics most was the depiction of Freddie’s sexuality, that the movie wasn’t gay enough or bisexual enough. Even the scene when he came out to Mary as bisexual and she replied by saying “No Freddie, I think you’re gay,” seemed to be a problem. First of all, most accounts suggest that that was what Mary actually said. Mary may not have been right, but that conversation does reflect the times they were living in, when labels were not fully understood. It is all about context.
And isn’t it crazy that twenty-seven years after his death, we still feel the need to dissect his sexuality? People seem to be offended by the movie’s lack of gayness, but I think it’s more offensive that we demand to focus solely on that part of Freddie’s personality. As if that were the only thing that defines him. And I beg to differ that the movie didn’t depict that part of him. The scene at the truck stop where he was eyeing a driver while on the phone with Mary was more than enough to show how agonizing it must have been to reconcile his love for Mary and his obvious attraction to men. But harping on that aspect reeks of sensationalism and disrespect.
That’s probably what Sacha Baron Cohen wanted – to highlight only the depravity and scandalousness. That’s all he can do and all he contribute. Shock for the sake of shock. No, thank you.
Another problem the critics had is that the movie did not show his struggle with AIDS. They wanted a more dramatic take, realistic and dark. Well, it was never going to be that. It was always going to be a celebration of the man and the band and their music. Besides, did we really want to see this horrible disease slowly taking this man we love? Did we really need to see him losing his sight and wasting away? How cruel do you have to be to want that? I can’t even watch the music video for “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” because I can’t bear to see Freddie in that state.
As for fudging the timeline and moving the AIDS diagnosis forward – it was still understandable. Live Aid had to be the climax because this is also a story of Queen, and that performance was undeniably the zenith for the band. Freddie was still defying odds when he went onstage for Live Aid – he performed against doctor’s orders. And movies, as we know, cannot always be literal.
You don’t know what it means to me
I was twelve when Freddie Mercury died, but I wasn’t into their music back then. When I finally “discovered” Queen, that part was already history. But with this movie, I felt like I experienced Freddie’s death and mourned for him for the first time. Bohemian Rhapsody was more than a movie – it was a journey. I lived my Live Aid dream in the closest way possible and rediscovered and appreciated the musicianship behind the overplayed yet brilliant songs. I laughed, I cried. I felt like I lost someone close to me, though I didn’t even know him. And to this day I still feel deep regret that Freddie isn’t with us anymore.
So really, I don’t care what the critics think. This movie was well worth the wait and I fully accept this as the loving tribute it was meant to be.
We love you Freddie, Always.