Caught this last night in an indie playhouse; while it was fine, I’m not sure it was quite Best-Picture-Oscar caliber. The biggest critique I’ve heard is that it takes a somewhat poetic and reverent view of Freddie Mercury; this isn’t surprising, since Brian May and Roger Taylor were the executive producers and probably miss their old mate terribly. And Mercury also lived a large enough life that some bits necessarily had to be trimmed and compressed. Then again – there are a couple of moments that seem to have been made up to generate “drama” or to really idolize the band, and those really stuck out and made me roll my eyes a little (the film implies that the donation phone banks at Live Aid were kind of dead until Queen took the stage, at which point suddenly the phones went berserk and donations soared). Speaking of Live Aid, the film recreates Queen’s performance nearly in its entirety, which felt a little indulgent.
That said, that recreation was pretty close to spot-on (and I say this a someone who saw the original during the live TV broadcast). Rami Malek studied Freddie carefully, even immersing himself into studying Freddie’s own influences, so he could get everything just right. While I’m on the fence about the film itself, I definitely agree with his nomination.
Ultimately, though, what grabbed me most about the film was that it was a chance to listen to Queen songs. There’s a whole sequence about the creation and subsequent popularity of the song “We Will Rock You”, and as the scene went on I had to fight harder and harder to resist the urge to stomp and clap along (I was one of only four people in the theater and that would have been weird). Singing like Freddie is the one thing Malek didn’t try to attempt – but fortunately the production had the Canadian singer Marc Martel at hand, who’s in the past few years made waves with his ability to eerily sound exactly like Freddie. He apparently recorded some vocals for the movie, and the final sound is a mix of both Martel’s work and original master tapes; and even Martel has said he can’t quite figure out what’s his voice and what isn’t.