Movie Reviews: Bohemian Rhapsody vs. A Star is Born

I’m still catching up on all the best picture nominees from last year. (Four down, four to go.) I watched the two music-based ones almost back to back, and they offered an interesting contrast in approaches. One fictional, one based on an actual group, and they both shared a lot of similarities. The plots to both are quite similar, from a macro scale, and you have to wonder why that is. Is it because A Star is Born bases itself off already existing “unknown person becomes famous” examples in history, which is what Bohemian Rhapsody illustrates, or is it because it’s an example of a trope which Bohemian Rhapsody shoehorns history into?

I tend to think it’s more the latter, though it’s also some of the former. In other words, I think there are some side effects to becoming famous that most people who become famous have to face, sooner or later. So it makes sense that both the fictional and non-fictional account would show those examples. But I think audiences also want a story, and so it becomes necessary to force events to fit the story in the historical account of Queen, something A Star is Born doesn’t have to deal with. It can just make its story be whatever it wants.

With Queen, it’s not that easy, and the film plays quite loosely with history to get the arc it wants for the band and its members. For example, Queen never split up in real life. Freddie Mercury’s solo stint came after several other band members had already done solo projects of their own. They’d just come off tour before Live Aid, so they didn’t need to rehearse to get back into singing condition. The band also didn’t learn of Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis until years later. Mercury himself, it is believed, didn’t find out until a few years after the Live Aid concert as well.

Sure, on the one hand you can dismiss those “tweaks” as nothing more than a reshuffling of events, but I think it’s would be a mistake to do so. When we watch a movie that’s “based on a true story,” the knee jerk reaction is to believe most of what we see. That tends to lead us down what I’ll call a Facebookerized version of reality, where the reality we see is different than the actual truth of a person’s life. When we begin to compare our reality with all these portrayed realities, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We’re never going to match up.

The thing is, life doesn’t do story arcs. Not the way we’d like it to. There’s never a “happily ever after” or a fade to black. Storylines aren’t tied up. Closure doesn’t really happen the way we’d like it to. Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely beginning and endings to everything. But they’re rarely in the scripted way we see depicted on screen.

Did I like both films? Yes and no. I loved the soundtrack to Bohemian Rhapsody (duh), and really enjoyed many of the songs in A Star is Born. I can see why the movies garnered Oscar nominations and wins. But with Star, I felt like it was too forced overall for me to really love. The story was shoved into a trope, and you pretty much knew what the arc was going to be as soon as it started. In Rhapsody, I felt it was a bit too propagandy for my tastes. The best thing I can compare it to are the two Cole Porter biopics. The first (Night and Day, starring Cary Grant) presents a Facebookerized version of the man. Squeaky clean and all American. The second, (De-Lovely, starring Kevin Kline) delves into Porter’s real history, depicting his bisexuality, troubled relationships, and dark times of his life that were glossed over by most when he was actually alive.

Same person. Same “history.” Two entirely different realities.

Rhapsody wants us to believe it’s much closer to the De-Lovely side of things, but I walked away feeling like much of it had been Night and Dayed, if that makes sense, with a thin veneer of De-Lovely to make it feel properly edgy.

That said, I enjoyed both movies and gave them both 8/10, so that seems like my review is much harsher than they deserved. I think it’s just that I saw them so close together that it made me think more on what they said about history than about the films themselves. The ending of Rhapsody is fantastic. The beginning of Star is superb. Enough to bring up the rest of their respective films, especially when coupled with the soundtracks and acting.

I just wish the stories kept up with the rest.


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