My first year of college, I shared a room and bathroom with three other girls, and we were responsible for cleaning said bathroom. Surprisingly, one of the times we participated in this chore comprises one of my favorite first-year year moments. As I was still getting to know my roommate (who remains my roommate to this day), we embarked on one of these cleaning expeditions together and she put on some music to make things go faster. Almost immediately, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen started playing, and my roommate and I made brief eye contact before completely rocking out and scream-singing the song the whole way through, scrubbing shower tiles all the while.
It’s that same feeling, of friendship and pure enjoyment of a song that’s essentially nonsense on the surface, that translates from the ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the film of the same name, and it was this feeling that I had when I saw the film on Nov. 3. While the story follows a formula we’ve all seen before, a band’s rise to fame and the good and bad that follows, there’s something about Queen’s story and the characters we get to know that makes it genuine and causes it to stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” places the main focus on the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury, portrayed masterfully by Rami Malek. While Malek is supremely talented in the role, taking the audience along with him through every twist of Mercury’s life, the story is made all the more charming through what the audience gets to know about the other members of Queen: guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello). All of whom are there for more reason than simply propping Malek up so Mercury may shine. Rather, during their repeated refrains of, “We’re a family,” a cliche that could come across as just that, you feel the genuine intention of the sentiment, of Queen as, “four misfits who don’t belong together. We’re playing for other misfits, the outcasts right at the back of the room, who’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”
There’s also the subject of Mercury’s sexuality, something the singer was notoriously private about in real life. This is where the film has an equal measure of highs and lows; this was the first time I’d ever heard the word “bisexual” said on a movie screen, which I found to be extremely significant. Unfortunately, rather than allowing the story to follow a fuller view of this part of Mercury’s identity, it’s broken into extremes. When he’s still with his girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), he’s straight, but later, in embracing the gay club scene and Mercury’s relationship with manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) and later his partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), Mercury’s portrayed solely as gay. Not only that, Mercury is portrayed as a gay man who, when he’s not in steady monogamous relationship, is being taken advantage of and plunged into a “darker” scene. Regardless of this, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is at the very least able to end with a subtler display of Mercury’s sexuality, his original love Mary and his new partner Jim both being present to lend him their support and love during his Live Aid performance. It’s a defining moment of the film, with their significance to him being represented equally, even though it is never explicitly said, making up for some of the earlier missteps.
I came out of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with tears in my eyes and an absolute need to listen to Queen. Maybe this film doesn’t live up to severe critical analysis, and maybe it’s structured in a pattern we’ve all seen before, but this film isn’t meant to be analyzed right down to it’s very core, and it isn’t meant for critics. It’s meant for fans, who loved and still love Freddie and Brian and Roger and “Deaky”, who have formed such deep connections to the music they created together and the family they formed. This movie, like the band, like Freddie himself, is for the misfits at the back of the room, looking for a place to belong, and finding it in Queen.