Cast: Rami Malek Lucy Boynton Gwilym Lee Ben Hardy Joseph Mazzello. Directed by Bryan Singer.
A creative team comprised of warring, struggling artists, a possible failure looming, and creative differences abundant, it appears as if the making of a movie about Queen is as similar to them as the actual story.
There’s very little point covering the plot in any real detail, but in basic terms, the film follows Queen from their formation outside a college campus pub, to their legendary twenty-minute spot at the Live Aid concert that cemented their comeback.
For a start, it falls into the problem that so many biographical films fall into, in that it tries to tell too much in two hours. A life is a succession of several events, and the best films focus on a single event, or situation without going over it. Downfall is a perfect look at the final ten days of Hitler’s life because he has a week and nothing else to follow. But to do the entire life of Hitler would be unfeasible because so much happened. Similarly, like The Iron Lady or Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom the film follows something too expansive to ever really get under the skin of.
Instead, what we get is a film that flits from the bare beginnings to a tour of America within ten minutes; this makes it appear like Queen were always certain of what they could and could not do. This also plays into another issue the film has, which is its pacing. The film has such a pacing issue that by the forty-five-minute mark we’ve had two ups and downs in the life of the band, but have barely reached the big hits. It gives the feeling of a much longer, much more boring film.
It’s also an unfocussed film, never sure if it’s telling the story of Queen or of Freddie Mercury, the long production history was halted several times because of the varying ideas on what this should be. Had the film been about the conception of A Night at the Opera, then that could have made some form of sense, or even the time leading up to the Live Aid concert, but both come together to make something that never finds its footing in any meaningful way, meaning wigs are thrown about but never with any significance.
The film may well be hampered by an erratic Bryan Singer behind the scenes, but there’s an erratic style to the film. There are scenes with graphics appearing on screen with the poor reviews of Bohemian Rhapsody as well as strange transitions for some scenes but then in others there’s very little to set it out from any other film. The camera appears to fly around but then spends other scenes doing nothing, as if stuck trying to catch its breath. It looks, clearly, like a work by two different directors, one who has style, and the other who isn’t really paying attention.
Which also means the tone suffers, owing to the style switching every other scene, the tone cannot decide if it’s somewhat lighthearted – many scenes are played for out and out laughs, including the ongoing joke about Roger Taylor writing a song about the love he has for his car, but then the very serious emotional and financial abuse of Mercury by Paul Prenter is a very serious matter that also doesn’t get the time it deserves.
The very serious issue of the drug abuse, frequent drinking, sexual encounters and everything isn’t made light of, but isn’t given the time that one would really need to examine what a toll it would take on a person either. Worse still, at times it seems like the film is a little scared to show just how much of the LGBT scene in the 80s Freddie enjoyed.
The issue of the singing is also a big one. In a film like Walk The Line, despite Joaquin Phoenix having a voice far higher than Johnny Cash, the continuity between his speaking and singing voice enables the film to feel more realistic. Here, because Malek is being dubbed by the original vocals of another performer, Marc Matel, there is a discourse between his singing voice and the voice he uses to speak. Perhaps it’s true no one can sing like Mercury, but we understand this is a film and therefore can make certain concessions.
That’s not to say the film isn’t without positives. Rami Malek is sensational as Mercury getting the voice, physicality and persona absolutely right. From the overbite to the way he moves about the stage there is nothing here that doesn’t feel properly Mercury but also doesn’t appear like acting; it’s studied spontaneity which is hard to occur and which means, undoubtedly there will be awards for Malek.
But, despite the film being almost entirely held together in it’s weaker moments by him there are other great performances. The main cast consists of Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Gwilyn Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello as Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, while the outer people of Aiden Gillen (as John Reid, their second manager), Tom Hollander (Jim “Miami” Beach, their third manager), Allen Leech (as total wanker Paul Prenter) and Mike Myers (as EMI executive Ray Foster) are given little to do.
Lee and Hardy give the best-supporting turns as May and Taylor, both of whom appear as fully rounded individuals. In fact, Lee is able to hold his own so well as the calm and collected Brian May that one could argue the film should have put equal focus on him and his exploits.
Which all builds to the famous Live Aid performance. The film – finally in its final twenty minutes – finds its footing when recreating that legendary performance, and reminds us that there was no band quite like Queen in this world. The problem arises here that because the film couldn’t quite hold the excitement and insanity of the final movement for the rest of the runtime.
Even though it doesn’t quite hold together as a strong work of biographical storytelling, Malek holds the film together in it’s weaker moments with his powerhouse performance as the legendary performer, and has ample support from the rest of the cast. By the end, you’ll find, they did rock you.
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