When new film Bohemian Rhapsody debuted it’s teaser trailer at CinemaCon in late summer from Twentieth Century Fox, both excitement and awards buzz began to swirl. Notably, award-winning television star Rami Malek from Mr. Robot physically transforming into the iconic Freddie Mercury set the internet abuzz.
Pundits who track award season tealeaves expected the Queen musical biopic to get out early, playing Oscar-bait qualifying film festivals like Venice which comes first, Telluride and then the big kahuna Toronto. It skipped all three, claiming it wasn’t finished. Few best picture winners or even winners in the acting categories, skip the festivals and go on to win prestigious prizes. The silent alarm begins to sound; something just wasn’t right.
Behind the Scenes Drama
The real drama of Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t the on-screen feuding between the band members; it occurred behind the scenes in a one-two punch. The first, when reports of controversial director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) failure to show up on set resulted in his firing by the studio. More details emerged of alleging him throwing objects at star Rami Malek after he complained about Singer’s behavior and tardiness.
Production was halted and director Dexter Fletcher, who is working on Twentieth Century Fox’s Elton John biopic Rocketman, completed filming and worked through the post-production. Director Ridley Scott who infamously cut Kevin Spacey out of his movie last year and replaced him with Christopher Plummer was even sought as a replacement for Singer.
Despite his firing, the Directors Guild of America ruled that Bryan Singer’s name would be the only directing credit listed on the film. Fletcher directed 16 days of production and worked for months with editors to try and piece together some sort of singular vision, which is why the film appears so uneven.
So what was initially thought to be an awards vehicle has turned into a disaster and a PR nightmare. Critics across the country began reviewing the film last week debuting with a negative score on Rotten Tomatoes. “The critical failure of Bohemian Rhapsody is that, 134 minutes after the lights go down, the members of Queen just seem like four blokes who’ve been processed through the rusty machinery of a Hollywood biopic,” Indiewire slammed the film with a D+ score.
Where’s the Story?
It won’t take a Queen fan long into the movie to pick up on the liberties screenwriter Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour) takes with Mercury’s history. Skipping over some of the most interesting aspects of his life, like growing up in India until age 17, or the fact he joined multiple bands that failed before joining Smile that eventually metamorphosed into Queen.
Although for those who are not interested in originality, could care less about technical elements or the drama happening off screen, Bohemian Rhapsody might play just fine as they listen to music they enjoy. However, if you expect to see a truly extravagant and campy portrayal of Mercury, this PG-13 plays it extremely safe.
Bohemian Rhapsody focuses on the highlights of Queen and Mercury, but can’t seem to decide if this is a biopic on the band as a whole or Mercury as an individual. We see their first performance together as a group, how and when they get signed, all typical scenes in every one of these movies. Freddie’s sexuality is certainly addressed, and his relationship with fiancé Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton) mirrors the bond we saw between Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.
The film culminates in the epic Live Aid performance where Queen so famously reunited after breaking up. Fans unfamiliar with Mercury or Queen might feel short sided in the history department. Film critic Danielle Solzman notes, “Bohemian Rhapsody has some major issues in telling the true story.” A quick read on Mercury’s Wikipedia page and you will see what she is talking about.
What About Awards?
As far as awards are concerned, Malek will be the only reason to nominate this movie. However, the industries disdain for Singer might result in a voting boycott for the film entirely. Its best shot would be running in the comedy/musical category at The Golden Globes (a foreign press association) where Malek would likely have the stronger performance among lighter nominees and not be competing against Bradley Cooper’s musical work in A Star is Born (competing on the drama side). Originally it was thought the costumes would be a real talking point, but they are glossed over in the disastrous editing that shows much of the on-stage performance stuff as a montage.
After Singer was fired, things got even worse for the filmmaker when Oscar-nominated and pivotal #metoo champion Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) helped point fingers of sexual misconduct his way. For years Singer has been loosely accused of holding parties where underaged boys were provided with alcohol, drugs, co-mingling with adult stars. Singer has denied all allegations, but what were originally whispers and gossip have now become a liability. Singer who developed and directed four X-Men films was removed as a producer on the forthcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix which stars Chastain.