I must start this out with a confession: I am someone who is prone to hyperbole. It will worm its way into my everyday interactions. In fact, one might say that I am liberal with my hyperbolicity— non-literal exaggerations can be found in the way I discuss, describe, act, and recount; in the way I exist.
However, when it comes to hyperbole, there is no place I use it more than in my descriptions of films. “It’s the most fun ever”, I might say about a movie that’s pretty fun, but the most ever? Probably not. However, in 2018 there was one film that was the receiving end of more hyperbole than any other: Bohemian Rhapsody.
This hyperbole was exclusively negative. Some descriptions I threw around included “the worst”, “actual trash”, “fully awful”, and “scum on the bottom of my shoes”. In an informal year in review I even went so far as to express my wish to strike it from history, calling it “cultural cancer masquerading as a film”. I’ll admit that the last one is probably one step too far, cancer is no laughing matter.
Then again, neither is Bohemian Rhapsody.
Now, I am aware that this movie is generally liked, some people support it getting nominated for Best Picture, some people even want it to win. I fully respect that they like it, I after all cannot change people’s opinions (though there are times I wish I could). However, that does not mean that I won’t dispute your reasoning for liking it right now.
I’ve heard many people claim that they like Bohemian Rhapsody because they like Queen and their music. This I can appreciate. I love Queen’s music. They remain one of the most genre redefining rock bands in history, who’s music remains timeless to this very day. But to say that you like Queen so therefore you like Bohemian Rhapsody is not only strange, but outright counterintuitive in my mind.
I should clarify that I don’t seek to invalidate your feelings about Queen, nor do I seek to say that the way I love Queen is more correct than the way you love Queen. Your feelings about Queen, Freddie Mercury, the music they created, is not what I am writing about. Freddie Mercury is still one of the most daring and inspirational musicians in modern history. This is in my mind an indisputable fact.
It is that exact fact that birthed my intense hatred for Bohemian Rhapsody.
Let’s take a moment to asses film as it exists in a vacuum devoid of external context (because oh is there context). As a piece of filmmaking alone Bohemian Rhapsody is both poorly constructed in every conceivable way and is— for the entirety of its runtime— immensely condescending toward Freddie Mercury, the figure it claims to be honouring.
One scene (see below), shared by a Twitter user encapsulates every issue I have with the Bohemian Rhapsody. In a mere one minute and twenty-two seconds, every issue with the film is laid out. The entire scene is a microcosm of the inherent flaws that annihilate every ounce of credibility and artistic integrity Bohemian Rhapsody ever possessed.
The editing is abysmal; the camera leaps from location to location at a disorienting rate. Maybe this was the desired effect, if I had a film where every line of dialogue is that canned and laughable that the last thing I would want is a fully oriented audience. I mean just take a moment to really take this in:
“Freddie Mercury: I’ll tell you what it is. We’re four misfits who don’t belong together, playing to the other misfits, the outcasts right at the back of the room, pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.
Brian May: We’re a family.
Roger Taylor: But no two of us the same.”
This dialogue is bad. I say that ignoring the fact that it is only reflective of the Queen’s musical philosophy if you squint, and ignoring the fact that it no one speaks like someone from that era would, and ignoring the fact that the ignoring the fact that it reads as an extended edgy Hot Topic T-Shirt quote. Even when I ignore that, the dialogue is still bad. It is, I’m sorry but it’s true!
You can agree with the overall sentiment of what is being said, that things do exist for outcasts. Queen certainly did early in their career. Yet, nothing in the film stands to support that statement. On the whole, Bohemian Rhapsody tells its story through generalities only. Specific times and places are rarely mentioned, and when they are it is because it would be impossible not to mention them.
The fact that The Live Aid Concert is the only concert mentioned specifically is indicative of Bohemian Rhapsody’s problem. It is, indisputably, their most iconic concert, a crown jewel in their legacy as a band. But it does a disservice to the performances that built that legacy like the Let Me Entertain You concert in Tokyo or the Love of My Life concert in Wembley.
The closest Bohemian Rhapsody comes to mentioning another concert (or any important moment in Queen’s history) is when, while on tour, the words “AMERICAN MIDWEST” flash upon the screen. Specificity is not a necessity when creating a biopic, nor is capturing the entirety of the subject’s life. The Social Network and First Man are two good biopics, even though the former is far from specific about every aspects of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, and the later if far from comprehensive on Neil Armstrong.
Where those projects differ from Bohemian Rhapsody is their storytelling decisions are motivated. The Social Network is about Mark Zuckerberg yes, but it’s also a film about friendship and loneliness. In the same First Man is a film about loss and mourning that is also about Neil Armstrong. Those films are driven by an emotional narrative, not by a determination to be a vague vignette of an individual’s most iconic moments.
Bohemian Rhapsody does not have a clear emotional narrative. The opening scene, set to Somebody to Love would suggest the theme of the film is finding acceptance, but then Freddie finds what is ostensibly his family within the first twenty minutes when he joins the band. Then the film is about isolation, a theme that while not inherently at odds with finding love, is when that isolation comes from the band, his found family.
Then the film culminates at The Live Aid Concert. The twenty-minute sequence fails to resolve either theme, because the film doesn’t put in the work to build to them. So, what’s left is a collection of poorly edited images placed in a sequence indicative of a story, but with no emotional narrative to match.
Rami Malek certainly does his best to bring pathos to the film. He swaggers, he preens, he acts through that set of awful fake teeth, but in the end his solid impression can only carry Bohemian Rhapsody so far. And impression is the right word, because what is effectively a halloween concert does not constitute a performance. A beat for beat recreation of Freddie Mercury’s movements at various concerts is impressive, but it’s not a performance. It’s just not.
Yes, Rami Malek got Bryan Singer fired from the film, for that he deserves undeniable praise. But that should not earn one a Golden Globe, let alone an Oscar Nomination (and probable win). The fact of the matter is a man with multiple standing paedophilia accusations to his name should never have been hired to make a film in the first place. At this point in history to have hired Bryan Singer is unacceptable. To release a movie that he made, regardless of its probable commercial success, is more-so.
Any artistic statement from a man with those standing accusations to his name is, in my mind, invalid. In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody it doesn’t matter because the film never has develops an artistic statement. “Be yourself” is too generic a statement for a band like Queen, too bland for a man like Freddie Mercury. If you had the movie explained to you without Queen or Freddie Mercury being mentioned would you still know it was about them?
I think not. Bohemian Rhapsody is too aggressively unoriginal.
When I say that Bohemian Rhapsody was the worst film of 2018, I do so acknowledging that there are plenty of films that are objectively worse. But there are no films that achieved the mass success, that were so culturally accepted, despite being so without merit, and representational of everything Hollywood does that is just wrong.
Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t just bad. It’s cultural regression. That is why it is the worst film of 2018, and I say that without hyperbole.