Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
Opening lines from "Bohemian Rhapsody" , Queen's bestselling album
The band "Queen" and its charismatic lead singer the late Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Balsara) have long been remembered as the disruptive start up of sorts in the 1970's and 80's rock and pop movement when the West was already flooded by bands like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and also saw the incoming of Michael Jackson, Madonna from the United States.
The film "Bohemian Rhapsody" (named after the famous song of the band) is directed by helmer Brian Singer( X Men Franchise, Apt Pupil, The Usual Suspects) is a biopic on the life of Freddie Mercury and his band "Queen".
This post is about the film, its vision, themes and the narrative used by Bryan Singer to bring out the method in the madness of the life of Mercury.
Why a movie on Freddie Mercury and Queen?
Freddie along with Brian May , John Deacon and Roger Taylor co founded Queen in 1970 which went on to create multiple Grammy winning songs and albums across its 21 year history till Mercury was alive. In total over 300 Million copies of their records have been sold till date and they performed hundreds of concerts across the globe. They are also credited to being the most innovative rock band of its time which experimented in outrageous ways. A song like "Bohemian Rhapsody" was considered as a semi opera song with over 7 minutes in length and a very unorthodox idea which no big record label was ready to back. But the band went on to launch the song and it soon became the largest selling song of the year in the UK and amongst the top 10 in the US. Like other bands of their time, Queen never really had a genre under which they can be categorised. So "Innuendo", "We Will Rock You", "I Want to Break Free", "Radio Gaga", "We Are The Champions", "The Show Must Go On", "Under Pressure" are all songs with their uniqueness and each one of the them is an anthem for the generation that grew with it and the ones who were born after Mercury died.
In fact in the film, when the band meets with Ray Foster (Award Winning Producer at EMI whose work included "Dark Side Of The Moon"), Mercury very clearly points out "Queen's music is innovative and different than others and will always be". Apparently Foster paid for "Bohemian Rhapsody” ‘s initial production which he thought was bad.
Besides being the rockstar he was, Mercury was seen as a legendary success story. More importantly an immigrant success story in the UK which inspired millions of people across the world to create their own music and invest heavily in new ideas. How can one Parsee-Indian immigrant who worked as a baggage handler at Heathrow airport went to amass mega millions and global stature at a time when racism was rampant in the West?
He was also the first music legend who died early due to AIDS and just died one day before announcing that he had contracted it. After he died, his funded trust went on to do seminal work in the field of awareness and prevention of the disease.
The story of Mercury is also about his life long living as an open homosexual. Be it his clothing, his style, be it his mannerisms in his later years. Freddie Mercury was the poster boy for the gay community globally.
Bryan Singer has created a biopic which is nothing less than a big spectacle. Singer wants this film to be the homage not just to Freddie Mercury but a bigger tribute to his fans. For this very reason, Actor Rami Malek (Mr Robot) was chosen who brings tectonic energy and poise to his portrayal of Mercury. Its almost like Mercury is alive and kicking in Rami Malek.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" chronicles the story of Queen across the development of 5 of his most famous songs. Each song talks about its genesis, the band's chemistry around that development with tidbits of Mercury's life and important incidents which shaped him.
In addition, the movie talks exhaustively about Mercury's relationship with his first girlfriend Mary Austin whom he broke up with but lived next to her until he died. There is also a large portion of the film which focuses on his relationship with men especially with Jim Hutton( a waiter he fell in love with at a party he hosted with whom he was close until his death) and Paul Prenter (his personal manager and the one who led his sexual escapades).
The film also puts a sharp focus on Freddie's complicated relationship with his family. The conservative Parsee Balsara family just could’nt accept the fact that he is a musician. Mercury too openly lies about the family's death in a train wreck in a press conference and never talks about his Asian/Indian heritage openly. It is something he struggles with till the very end but ultimately the family makes peace with him.
The story plays between Brian May , Roger Taylor, John Deacon and Mercury. Although they stayed together as a band until Mercury died, the film looks at the time when Mercury went on his own for a $4 Million offer from CBS Records. But somehow Bryan Singer does not give too much time to this conflict.He uses these moments to amplify Mercury's persona rather than decrease it.
Vision of Director Bryan Singer
Bryan Singer who has helmed many big budget films earlier creates a new look and feel for "Bohemian Rhapsody". Each song in the film plays in Karaoke style on the screen with the lyrics displayed in block letters. It looks as if Singer wanted all the audiences to sing in unison with Rami Malek while watching the film. The film is highly interactive in this perspective. Bryan Singer also had a long and blow hot-blow cold relationship while making this film. He left the film over differences with Malek and the production team but he ultimately came back. Singer has avoided the ‘very serious documentary’ vision for this biopic but he has made it palatable to a larger audience by celebrating the music of the band and keeping the film tight in its narrative. There are glimpses of Freddie Mercury’s low points in life but Singer lifts up the tempo of the story by introducing more music and more performances. The Live Aid Concert sequence takes the film to a new high although that time in history shows the decline of Mercury’s health.
Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury
The biggest asset of “Bohemian Rhapsody” has to be the guy who plays Freddie Mercury. Rami Malek creates an alternate Mercury of sorts on the big screen. He brings intensity in his performance like never seen before. The way he puts on the big teeth which Mercury had and plays a baggage handler at the airport is fascinating. And the flawlessness by which Malek transforms from Mary Austin’s lover to a gay icon is engaging to say the least. Malek uses his piercing eyes to convey the inner battles of Mercury quite successfully. He has a come long way from playing “The Egyptian King” in “The Night at the Museum”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets an Oscar nom this year. The supporting cast is also brilliant and don't forget to catch Mike Myers in the film.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is an all out entertainer about a complex human being who had an even more complex life. However, the film does not want to risk itself being taken too seriously. It celebrates the life and aura of Freddie Mercury and Queen. In fact it’s a biopic of “Queen” as well rather than just its lead singer. This film looks like a grand spectacle on the big screen but I feel this can be watched on your handheld device as well. I will give this film a 7 out of 10.