Bohemian Rhapsody, the somewhat sanitized biopic of the life of frontman Freddie Mercury, opens wide today. Before you head to the theatre, read this very well-written piece about Freddie and Queen on why they matter and where the movie goes off the reality rails just a tiny bit. This really is excellent for those who aren’t hardcore fans who want to know what to look for.
How do you make a movie about the lead singer of Queen that’s PG-13? Mercury did not live a PG-13 kind of life; he abhorred the very idea of a PG-13 kind of life. Engaging in R-rated mayhem (or NC-17, if we’re talking about the afterparty) was the whole point of being Freddie Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody without explicit decadence is like Patton without war scenes, Raging Bull without fight scenes, or Monster without all that serial killing.
To be fair, making a movie about Queen would be untenable for anybody. Is there a more contradictory band in rock history? Distilling Queen down to fit a convenient biopic narrative, any narrative, inevitably leaves a whole lot out. Queen side-stepped every binary — gay and straight, masculine and feminine, good taste and bad taste, art and kitsch, rockist and poptimist, earnest and ironic, pretentious and self-deprecating, silly and profound, clever and stupid, metal and soft rock, funky and [rigid “We Will Rock You” clapping].
Freddie Mercury didn’t fight against this in order to establish that, the plot of every real-life hero’s story. He just kind of did … everything. He was a gay icon who also ruled heavy-metal parking lots. He danced with regal ballets and in shady discos, and head-banged in a sea of mullets. He wrote the creamiest pop anthems and the nerdiest prog-rock tracks. He adored Aretha Franklin and Luciano Pavarotti and Electric Ladyland. He wore a unitard on stage and actually appeared dignified. And he never acted as though any of this was strange or unexpected, which convinced his audience to also erase in their minds the artificial boundaries between genres and people. That’s why he was heroic. He fought against against.
I know this sounds like a diss, but you need to keep reading. It really does provide some excellent background information on Freddie and the band that will make the movie more relevant.