The Best Picture Nominees: Bohemian Rhapsody

| February 13, 2019

The 91st Annual Academy Awards are just 11 days away and to celebrate I am taking a look at all eight of the year’s selections in the Best Picture nominees.  Are they any good?  Let’s take a look.

My musical tastes came of age in the early 1980s, arguably a difficult time for rock and roll – long after the corporate structure had taken the life out of this branded anthem of the youth culture that flourished in the 50s, peaked in the 70s and by then by the 80s had been so corporatized that it had become a flavorless industry of cool.  In the new age of MTV, rock music become visualized but, tragically, lost its soul.  The MTV generation had a style that was colorful and sexual, but was painfully generic – scarcely was there a mainstream band that didn’t look or sound like five others.  And then there was Queen.

Queen was a tonic for its time.  Every single song that they played was an epic – every one.  You felt that behind every song was something passionate, something experimental.  The structure of their music was always in flux, moving in unpredictable directions in odd combinations and configurations, guided musically by Brian May’s heavenly talent for guitar and vocally by the man who led the band to greatness.  Freddie Mercury was as close to a  performance artist as a rock star could get, a man to whom the music seemed to be in his very DNA.

Needless to say, when most of us heard that the corporate mechanism of Hollywood was going to try a biopic of Mercury our collective hearts sank.  Let’s face it, there are some acts that you can’t follow, many that you can’t duplicate and some you shouldn’t even try.  Queen was so widespread, moving in so many different directions and having so much history, how could a single film capture all the history that this great band lived through?

The answer: It can’t.

For a band with such a rich history, Bohemian Rhapsody focuses on the most standard and obligatory moments in the life of Queen.  Yes, they went to a farm to write the titular song.  Yes, it became a hit despite objections.  Yes, Freddie let success go to his head and nearly split the band.  Yes, he struggled with his sexuality.  Yes, he died of AIDS.  But the movie is missing the connective tissue that made all of these happen.  It jumps around through the red-letter moments of their history like a checklist.

The savior here is Rami Malek who manages to pull a good performance out of a bad script, a distracting set of prosthetic teeth, and his own odd resemblance to Mick Jagger, and give us a sympathetic portrait of Freddie Mercury as a guy who struggled to be himself but was tied down by the toxic masculinity of the times.  Plus, the movie’s stunning recreation of the band’s performance at Live Aid is remarkable – that’s a movie all by itself.  But, again, the journey getting there is hard-fought.  The movie wades through a lot of boiler-plate biopic regulation that seems to undermine everything that Queen was all about.  There was no way that a 2 hour movie was going to capture the essence of the band.  Perhaps if this had been a miniseries of Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime then there might have been enough time to really explore what make them special.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.