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Bohemian Rapsody Isn’t Good But Go See It Anyway

So, the Queen movie.

When I was nine (in 1980), I visited my grandmother in Michigan and on the first day she would take us down to the Ben Franklin store (that she and my grandfather used to own) and buy me a treat for my visit, usually somewhere around $10. Before that summer of 1980, I had always wanted Legos or Star Wars figures. But not that summer. For my birthday I had received a cassette player and had been looking to branch out into something other than a few tapes my parents owned (for instance, Peter, Paul and Mary’s Greatest hits because the 70s). I remember standing in front of a huge rack of tapes, all priced for $5.99 or some nonsense, and seeing the grey colored cover for Queen’s The Game. I had been hearing this really groovy song on the radio, Another One Bites the Dust, and I thought that if a band could play a song like that, then I wanted in on whatever else they were doing.

For my first music purchase, then, I chose The Game, which is a pretty solid choice for my nascent musical snobbery. The Game has it all: rocking riffs, huge melodies and harmonies, a swingy, jangly song about love and riding motorcycles, a song about suicide (!) and why not to try it, and of course the Chic-inspired/stolen bass line of Another One Bites the Dust. That album opened me to a whole world of possibilities and I was forever changed by that album and that band.

The movie Bohemian Rhapsody is not a great biopic of Freddy Mercury, nor is it even a good one. All the music critics are correct when they say the movie hedges its bets continuously, not really knowing what made Mercury and his band so special; they’re also correct when they complain that it’s really a by-the-numbers biopic that provides a very vanilla take on one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. For being about a band that was so adventurous, the movie takes very little chances. It’s a very non-Queen story about Queen.

But what the critics miss is truly the wonder of Queen, and how powerful they are and were. Yes, it’s not a deep or meaningful dive into Mercury’s life or what makes Queen so special, but it really doesn’t need to be for you to sing along and be reminded how seminal those Queen songs were and still are. That the movie doesn’t quite know how to deal with Mercury’s special talent for mixing the fun and bizarre, for taking chances that only now seem so obvious, for loving music so much that he becomes the voice of a generation of rock and rollers, eventually performing what is recognized as the greatest rock performance of all time — the movie has no idea what do to with these or why they matter, and that’s really alright.

Because music is art and art is mystery and mystery is what keeps us coming back for more, and goddam isn’t Queen an incredible band with so many songs that are fundamental to how we listen to rock and roll that it’s actually better that we don’t know exactly what makes them so special? So no, Bohemian Rhapsody is not a well made biopic that shrewdly cuts into Mercury’s or Queen’s personality to help us see them more clearly.

But it *does* provide us a rough outline of the story of Queen, with all its ups and downs, eventually ending in the super high of their once-in-a-lifetime Live Aid performance crashing into the bottoming out of Mercury’s death by AIDS, all the while reminding us, via their songs, that Queen was a truly special one of a kind band that wrote and performed like their lives depended on it, because, as it turns out, they did.

Do you like serious biopic films that cut and dive and explore personalities? Then maybe this isn’t for you. But if you like Queen (and really, who doesn’t?), then go see and thoroughly enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody. Go and relive the wonder and glee and just pure joy of a man and his band as they make true rock and roll, bringing joy to people across the world, just like nine year old me.

Go see it now.

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