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Review: Bohemian Rhapsody Isn’t Without Controversy

“We believe in each other… that’s everything. We are going to do great things. It’s an experience – love, tragedy, joy… it’s something that people will feel belongs to them.”

Bohemian Rhapsody was heavily criticized by critics decades ago, but became one of the most influential songs in history. I can’t say the movie will have quite the same longevity and impact, but maybe it deserves more credit than critics are giving it. Or does it?

The movie raked in big bucks at the box office, but don’t believe everything you see on screen. The script, written by Anthony McCarten with approval from Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor, is being heavily panned by critics for twisting Queen’s timeline for dramatic purposes changing the entire dynamic of the movie.

Hollywood has a track record of sensationalizing real events for the big screen (remember Argo?). Sometimes scenes/events are altered or condensed due to time restraints, or some events can’t be portrayed due to rights being withheld. But in the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, several major events are tweaked for dramatic effect, and that’s not necessarily a good thing here.

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The movie follows Queen, a dentist, astrophysicist, electrical engineer and Parsi immigrant, creating their iconic hits throughout the 70’s and 80’s and their eventual performance at 1985’s Live Aid concert. I wanted to see Bohemian Rhapsody specifically because I knew nothing about Queen nor did I know anything about director Bryan Singer. I always grapple with whether or not to include controversy outside of the movie, but it’s necessary.

“Fox deciding to push Bryan Singer for Best Director at the Oscars this year, despite the fact that Singer has had a well-publicized career of being accused of sexual assault, including of minors, for years. Oscar buzz is a slap in the face to victims, and to have his bad behavior ignored on a personal level and considered a quirk on the professional level is revolting.” via The Mary Sue

To be clear, while I loved the movie (despite Singer’s involvement), I don’t think Freddie Mercury lived a PG-13 lifestyle. Sporadic scenes of cocaine-filled tables and vague nightclub shots were politely glossed over. Bohemian Rhapsody plays it very safe by heavily downplaying Mercury’s sexuality and hardcore partying.

Once the credits rolled, I felt satisfied with the movie, but something was missing. It’s a very cookie-cutter biopic that colors inside the lines; a formula that doesn’t quite suit Freddie Mercury. What I wasn’t prepared to read about was two major inaccuracies in the film that completely change my perception of Queen.

The movie spins Mercury to be almost the villain of the group for wanting to cash-in with a solo album causing serious friction within the band. But in reality, Mercury wasn’t the first Queen member to pursue a solo endeavor. Drummer Roger Taylor released solo albums “Fun in Space” and “Stranger Frontier” in 1981 and 1984 both of which came out before Mercury’s first solo effort, “Mr. Bad Guy” in 1985.

The second major inaccuracy is the timeline surrounding Mercury’s HIV diagnosis. The script shows Mercury learning his diagnosis right before reuniting with Queen for Live Aid. The movie uses Mercury’s diagnosis to bring the band together, and it really tugs at our heart strings. By all accounts, Mercury wasn’t diagnosed with HIV until April 1987. Live Aid’s performance was in 1985. This factual inaccuracy is a dumpster fire with fans.

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“I’ve never seen a film distort its facts in such a punitive way. It’s like the movie wants to punish Freddie Mercury,” wrote UPROXX’s Mike Ryan. “Mercury’s tragic death from AIDS was a defining moment in the early ’90s fight for AIDS awareness. To now retcon his illness into his Live Aid performance seems flippant and cruel.”

Unlike movies like Argo, these inaccuracies completely changed my opinion of Freddie Mercury… until I did my homework.

If you can pardon all of the above, it’s a pretty solid half-accurate biopic with tremendous acting. What makes Queen so special can be summed up by Mercury himself – “We’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for the other misfits. They’re the outcasts, right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”

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