Bohemian Rhapsody was one of the few films nominated for a best picture Oscar that I did not see in the theaters. I was interested, but it got pretty mediocre reviews and when I didn’t get around to it, it didn’t bother me.
I consider myself a Queen fan in the way that most people around my age do: I have an affection for their songs, can sing along to all of the major hits, but I don’t really have much familiarity with the band’s story. I knew they were famous in the 1970s and 80s, that Freddie Mercury was gay and had died of AIDs. That was about the limit of my knowledge.
I have heard complaints that Bohemian Rhapsody gets some important facts wrong which has contributed to some negative reviews. Fair enough. But as I am no expert on Queen, this did not bother me. I can only assess the film on its cinematic merits.
I thought this film was mostly fun and entertaining. Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury in all of his sassy glory with aplomb (although it does seem odd that Mercury seemed to have not a drop of self-consciousness and I couldn’t help but wonder if he really was so confident, even at the beginning of his career). I liked how it was a story of a band, not just a story of a charismatic, egotistical frontman.
The performances are good throughout. The writing is mostly solid, the film is pretty tightly edited and, of course, there are Queen songs to hold an audience's attention in the case of any boredom. A lot of story is crammed into the two-hour and fourteen-minute run time, but it doesn’t really feel that long, I think because of the songs studded throughout.
But it’s also a fairly simple film. That’s not necessarily bad: it’s straightforward and uncluttered with issues that might have muddied up the story. However, there is not a lot of subtlety, even though there is plenty of room for it. And sometimes I think it is called for. The film takes a pretty uncomplicated approach to Mercury’s sexuality, which comes across as inauthentic. Other than his temporary dismay at the thought of losing fiancee, Mary Austin, when she forces him to admit he is not straight, he doesn’t seem to have many thoughts at all about his sexuality. And maybe that’s reflective of his actual attitude, but it seems unlikely.
I’m not mad that Bohemian Rhapsody was nominated for Best Picture. But having seen it now, I understand why so many people were surprised that it won best picture at the Golden Globes. I think it’s a fine movie, but I don’t think it’s better than any of the nominees I’ve seen so far, and I’ve seen almost all of them. I would be surprised if it won over A Star Is Born.
What to make: In a scene near the end, Freddie Mercury brings his boyfriend home to his family and they are served mithai, which is said to be Freddie’s favorite. I had never heard of mithai but after some research, I found that it is something of an umbrella term for Indian sweets, usually made for a celebratory purpose. It might be a lot of work, but it would be so much fun to serve this—even just one to two kinds.