Last week, I finally got to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the first-ever biopic* about Freddie I Mercury, First of His Name, King of the Virgos and the September Babies, God of Rock Music, Father of Epic Rock Logos, Immortal Gay/Queer Icon, The Great Pretender, Mr. Fahrenheit.
The reviews, like this one from The New York Times, haven’t been very kind to the film. For the most part, the reviewers seem rather ticked off that the film contains so many typical rock band tropes. The reviewers refer to these tropes almost exclusively as cliches, probably because they are unaware that Tropes Are Tools, and as such, can be used well or poorly. The fact that these reviewers recognize the tropes used in Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t mean that the film is bad. It just means that it’s full of tropes. And why would a film adaptation like this be full of tropes? Because tropes can be us to convey concepts, ideas, and events in a timely, concise manner, and Bohemian Rhapsody covers a period of fifteen years where A LOT of stuff happened.
You see, the film takes place from 1970 to 1985, and many, many things happened in that period of time. There’s so much, in fact, that if you didn’t condense those events and all of the secondary characters involved, the movie would be about 85 hours long. We also have to remember that at this point in time, the three other members of Queen are still very much alive, and two of them, Brian May and Roger Taylor, served as executive producers on the film. Since May and Taylor had so much say in what the film covered and even in the casting, it’s possible that this film is, for them, a nostalgic walk down memory lane, which is why it’s PG-13 and why some people think that it feels sanitized. This video review makes some great points about that, especially about how May and Taylor are protecting Queen as a brand, even though they claim they’re protecting Freddie’s legacy. This means that we probably won’t get a more faithful adaptation until Queen’s remaining members join Freddie in the Great Rock Concert in the Sky.
(Note: I do agree with the reviewer in the video linked above that it really is clear that May and Taylor are trying to protect their own images because they made sure the script has Freddie being a dick all the time. That isn’t actually true. I know this because I just finished reading Lesley-Ann Jones’s Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury, which contains quotes from May and Taylor admitting that Freddie was often the peacemaker in Queen’s disputes. In fact, May and Taylor were often the ones fighting with each other back then, but they don’t want that portrayed onscreen because they present themselves as a united front now.)
The thing is, even though I know it’s much blander than the real thing and that it’s super sanitized, I still enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. That frustrates me because the reviews I’ve read have this moral superiority about them; they didn’t enjoy the film because they are better at consuming and enjoying film than we, the normal people are. That not just true of this film, though; it happens with Marvel movies and other mainstream stuff that I like. I do have to note, though, that I see these grand, borderline-moral pronouncements come from male reviewers more often than female reviewers. For instance, the reviewer in the video linked above declares that Bohemian Rhapsody is the worst film he’s ever seen. Really, dude? REALLY?! Have you seen an Uwe Boll film? Or any truly bad film? Because I sat through Bloodrayne, and Bohemian Rhapsody is FAR better than that. I think female reviewers may use this type of hyperbole less than male reviewers because our tastes are often written off or made fun of (example: anything aimed at teenage girls), so some of us (myself included) may allow ourselves to enjoy mediocre movies about amazing people, or trashy reality shows, or cozy mystery novels. At some point, the moral superiority that reviewers show when it comes to mediocre or flawed movies stops being about the movie itself and becomes all about the reviewers and how perfect their taste is. They, just like Brian May and Roger Taylor, cannot admit to being flawed.
Well, I guess I’m not morally superior in that way. I enjoy mediocre movies. I enjoy mainstream franchises. This may mean I’m going to movie reviewer hell, but I don’t care. I used to care, but I can’t care as much as I once did. Because I enjoyed this movie, even though it’s corporate and sanitized. It’s one of those movies that you can enjoy despite the meh story because it has great performances (I feel like the cast elevates the rote material they’re given to work with), fantastic costumes, and fun musical sequences. Maybe we’ll get a grand masterpiece about Freddie Mercury someday. But I can’t live for someday. I have to live with what I’ve got now. And I’m tired of having to worry about how good my taste in movies, books, music, and TV is.
*I don’t count documentaries as biopics. They are a separate genre. Biopics must be fictionalized accounts of the subjects’ lives.