I've been sitting on my desk for a few hours now, trying to figure out exactly how I feel about Bryan Singer's Bohemian Rhapsody. Because, as a massive Queen fan who sings along to pretty much their entire repertoire — and has even considered purchasing a Freddie Mercury mustache just for the fun of it — I can't come to terms with the fact that I have mixed feelings about the film.
It's not because of Singer; he's skilled in his craft and I enjoy most of his work (I have no shame in admitting I love Superman Returns). It certainly isn't because of the cast either; Rami Malek certainly looks the part in a recently released photo.
Nope, my nervousness is there because of the movie's focus. When Queen officially announced the movie was moving forward, they described the project as:
"A perfect choice to recreate the fabulous Queen years which brought us such unforgettable moments as Live Aid, which we can reveal will be faithfully recreated for a key sequence the film."
The announcement excited me, but it also sent shivers down my spine. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was going on in my head at first, but I eventually got it: This wasn't going to be the biopic I had expected for the better part of a decade.
The Freddie Mercury Biopic That Never Was
Sacha Baron Cohen partnered up with Brian May and Roger Taylor in the mid 2000s with one vision in mind: A #FreddieMercury biopic that delved into the #Queen frontman's multifaceted lifestyle. I was ecstatic. Mercury's always been one of my favorite artists. A film exploring his intriguingly complicated life — headlined by an actor known for his open approach to controversial issues — was a dream come true.
But as fate would have it, things weren't meant to be. Cohen stepped down from the project six years later due to creative differences, and his ambitious plan was scrapped in favor of what would become Bohemian Rhapsody.
As exciting as this new project is, I've gotta be honest; it has an uncomfortable sense of safety around it. May and Taylor were famously against delving into the dark side of Queen, and the film's description pretty much confirms that the story will be told through a mostly bright set of eyes.
That was particularly frustrating for me, because I can't stop thinking that Mercury's biopic was a missed opportunity. A movie that delved into the nitty gritty aspects of his life could very well have the potential to be an Oscar-worthy biopic.
What Exactly Makes Freddie Mercury's Story An Oscar-Winning Film?
There have been countless Oscar-winning biopics throughout the years. Some of the most notable examples are The Imitation Game, Erin Brockovich, Amadeus, The King's Speech and Schindler's List. They all have a common thread: They're set in the past, and recount the tale of an extraordinary group of individuals leaving their mark on the world. Maybe it was turning a war to the good guy's favor, maybe it was fighting a corporation contaminating people's water supply, or perhaps it was about a man overcoming his own insecurities.
Mercury's story perfectly fits that bill — not just because of his talent, but because of who he was. The #Queen frontman was one of the most prolific and innovative musicians out there, but the most interesting about him boils down to his duality. There's no way to put it mildly: This man was every bit as wild as he was talented, and the stories about his numerous escapades are the stuff of rock 'n' roll legend.
Mercury once smuggled Princess Diana into a gay bar by dressing her as a man. He was notorious for having little people walking around his lavish parties with cocaine plates on their heads. He had prostitutes in the bathrooms of his parties to ... well, entertain his guests. He reportedly enjoyed quick sexual escapades in-between sets during his concerts, and it was even rumored (though never confirmed) that he enjoyed having people inhaling cocaine from his nether regions.
That wasn't his real self, though. Most of us were familiar with the perfect Mr. Bad Guy, a charismatic individual with a flamboyant stage presence, dark humor and irresistible witty comebacks. But his real side was always hidden in the background.
In reality, Mercury was a shy and consistently private man. Not even his Queen bandmates were entirely sure of who he was, despite having spent two decades working with him. As he put it during a 1986 interview: "Everybody looks at me on stage and they think that's how I am. Like arrogant [...] when you look at me now, I'm quite boring, really. That's my stage persona, I mean that's the only way I like to do it."
Mercury was also well aware of the loneliness that came with his astounding fame and status. He made that clear during his 1985, The Bigger The Better interview, where he revealed his only true friend was Mary Austin, his former fiancée and longtime partner:
"I don't have that many people to turn to. The only one is Mary [...] even though we're not together right now, I sort of refer to her a lot, and she's about the only friend I would say I could refer to [...] A real true friend for me has to be very strong, and put up with me."
In many ways, Mercury was the embodiment of his 1987 cover, "The Great Pretender." That duality is what makes his biopic such an intriguing and worthwhile endeavor. It would give audiences the chance to connect with the human behind the legendary rockstar. If handled right, that could be one of the best biopics we've seen in years.
Could We Ever See Cohen's Version?
Unfortunately, chances for the original project being revived are slim to none. During an interview in The Howard Stern Show, #SachaBaronCohen revealed that Roger Taylor and Brian May had been very strict about not delving into Mercury's troubled lifestyle. Why? Well, they wanted to keep the band's relatively clean image and 40-year legacy intact:
"I understand it. They are a band, they want to protect their legacy as a band. They want ['Bohemian Rhapsody'] to be about Queen."
So sadly, my fellow music lovers, Freddie Mercury's true story will probably not get the big screen treatment for a long, long time. That's a shame, but at least I'll take comfort in the fact that maybe one day, someone will decide to unearth the project and make it come true.
Meanwhile, we'll get to see a part of Mercury's rockstar journey alongside John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylot when Bohemian Rhapsody hits theaters on December 25, 2018.
How do you feel about seeing an in-depth Freddie Mercury biopic? Are you happy with the route Bohemian Rhapsody is taking? Let me know in the comments!