Posted on 11.1.18: A follow-up to last night’s “Will Joe Popcorn Save Rhapsody?” post: I’ve said two or three times that Bryan Singer‘s Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox, opening tonight) is a generally pleasing in-and-outer — humdrum or “bizarrely anodyne” during stretches, but also one that occasionally catches the heat and delivers serious highs. Then it’s back to anodyne.
The Bohemian Rhapsody problem is that the Queen guys (Brian May in particular) wouldn’t grant rights to a biopic that didn’t deliver a basically positive spin — i.e., “Freddie had his excessive episodes but the fans loved him and the band plus he cared about his mum and dad and wife as far as it went, and of course the songs still rock.” So that’s the yoke — why the film doesn’t feel whole, much less transcendent.
It’s nonetheless a sporadically pleasing thing to sit through, and it really is unfortunate, I feel, that critics and editors (the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic fraternity that has rendered verdicts of 57% and 49% respectively) aren’t a little more comme ci comme ca about equivocating in an honest way when a film is a solid half-and-halfer.
The phrases “reasonably passable,” “not half bad and sometimes better than that,” “could be a lot worse,” “basically decent” and “imperfect but not a burn” are used by this columnist when the shoe fits, but you’ll hardly ever read them in a typical review. Because critics are trained early on to either pan or approve — to basically lean one way or the other. Don’t confuse the reader by sounding wimpy or uncertain.
Except the flighty, spazzy nature of Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) allow a critic or viewer to lean one way or the other. It’s a once-in-a-blue-mooner that sidesteps suckage but at the same time doesn’t quite get there. In mountain-climbing terms it’s about two thirds of the way between base camp and the peak. Okay, halfway.
Double clarification: The “bizarrely anodyne” comment is from a 10.31 New Yorker piece, “A Truly Perfect Thirty Seconds of Queen“, by Amanda Petrusich.