I really liked ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
I don’t know that I’d go as far as saying I loved it, because I had a lot the same issues as most folk seemed to have with it (the glorification of all things Brian May, the input of a fake conflict/band breakup brought on by Freddie, the way certain aspects of Mercury’s sexuality were treated, etc.), but I really enjoyed it regardless, if only for Rami Malek’s phenomenal portrayal of the Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, which brought the film’s quality up infinitely, in my opinion.
Last night at the Oscars, ‘Rhapsody’ seemed to take home way more awards than anyone necessarily cared for, as it was undoubtedly the most polarizing film nominated, and won a bunch – mostly in categories I felt pretty necessary and warranted (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing). Some of the shit it won was absurd, like “Best Film Editing”, when scenes like this exist in the flick…
…but hey, The Academy loves all things UK/history related, and Queen is UK history. You’ll win some and lose some. Maybe that award was given to ‘em for masterfully editing Bryan Singer out of all of their acceptance speeches, in which case…well-deserved.
When Rami Malek was awarded ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ for his ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ performance in an absolutely stacked category, featuring Bradley Cooper (‘A Star Is Born’), Christian Bale (‘Vice’), Willem Dafoe (‘At Eternity’s Gate’), and Viggo Mortensen (‘Green Book’), the film’s extremely vocal detractors came outta the woodwork with one main criticism of his Mercury portrayal: Malek didn’t actually sing in the film.
You may have seen the narrative that Bradley Cooper sang in ‘A Star Is Born’, and Rami didn’t in ‘Rhapsody’ – therefore giving Cooper a superior performance to Malek – start to build over the past week, when the public started catching on to the odds for the ‘Best Actor’ category and soiling their diapers about it, but I’m here to tell you why that’s a big ol’ crock of shit.
Before I get into this, I should mention that I wanted Bradley Cooper to win this award. I thought Bradley Cooper gave a much better, and more impressive all-around performance in ‘A Star Is Born’ than Rami Malek did in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I thought the difference between ‘A Star Is Born’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in terms of overall quality is comparable to the difference between a ‘Fast and the Furious’ flick and ‘Die Hard’. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING about any of those opinions has anything to do with having a Freddie Mercury impersonator blend his voice with the real deal for the final product, though, and here’s why…
1. The Oscars award ACTING performances – NOT singing performances.
Since when did the Oscars become a show where we’re all concerned about who can sing and who can’t?
Nobody cared when Jamie Foxx lip-synced his entire ‘Best Actor’ winning performance as Ray Charles in 2004, did they? What about when Adrien Brody won ‘Best Actor’ for ‘The Pianist’ in 2002 and admittedly didn’t do all of the piano playing in that flick? Or when Natalie Portman won ‘Best Actress’ in 2001 for ‘Black Swan’ and did an estimated “5%” of her own dancing? What if we extend the conversation to any extracurricular enhancements an actor could make to improve their performance? I’d argue Gary Oldman’s makeup and prosthetics that transformed him into Winston Churchill in ‘Darkest Hour’ played just as big a factor in that film that Marc Martel’s singing did for ‘Rhapsody’, did they not?
Folks, it’s called acting for a reason. These people are acting to do the things their characters are doing. While it’s insanely impressive that Bradley Cooper put himself through the vocal training he did, and definitely a better story than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ using the voice of Freddie Mercury blended with a Queen cover band singer for all of their performance scenes, you would never be able to tell that was the case based on each flick in a vacuum – which is all that matters to the voters of The Academy. What the movies look like from start to finish.
2. Rami Malek was playing the greatest rock n’ roll singer of all time, who held an unparalleled, four-octave vocal range, while Bradley Cooper was playing a character that he wrote, designed, and tailored to perfectly take advantage of his personal capabilities and voice.
This ain’t just black and white, one guy sang, one didn’t. It’s much, much, much more complicated than that.
Without downplaying Bradley Cooper’s performance in ‘A Star Is Born’ (my favorite performance of the year), and his incredibly annoying ability to have a fantastic voice despite being good at literally everything else he’s ever done, I’ll say this: his vocal range and singing talents, while great, aren’t necessarily all that technically impressive. He works at what sounds like a one-octave (maybe two) baritone level, with every song in the film written and designed to never venture away from where he’s comfortable. It was the smart thing to do, and worked perfectly – there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Rami Malek, however, had the challenge of playing Freddie Mercury, who doesn’t only have one of the most outrageous, recognizable, and beloved voices in literal human history – he also held an unprecedented and unparalleled (rumored) four-octave range. Freddie’s vocal range extended from bass low F (F2) to soprano high F (F6). On occasion, he’d reach up up to a tenor high F (F5). Mercury’s vibrato was 7.04 Hz, where the normal human range fluctuates between 5.4 Hz and 6.9 Hz.
That’s a bunch of fancy music mumbo-jumbo that all means this – Freddie Mercury was a once-in-a-lifetime talent practically impossible to replicate.
You cannot teach yourself to sing like Freddie no matter how much time you put into it, and require certain genetics and nasal/jaw structures to even come close, which is what the film’s singer, Marc Martel, credits most of his impressionist abilities to.
Borrowing an analogy from YP here, amounting this apples-and-oranges scenario to “one guy sang, and one guy didn’t” would be like if somebody fought a real-life coyote in a flick the year ‘The Revenant’ came out, and you discredited Leonardo DiCaprio’s entire performance based on the fact that “one guy fought animals”, and the other didn’t – despite Leo’s on-screen fight being with a bear, something almost humanly impossible to replicate and survive. It’s somebody playing pick-up basketball against a team of schlubs that were actually trying to win on-screen versus somebody playing Michael Jordan against actors letting him dunk from the free-throw line. It’s two completely different things, and simply unfair to compare the two in the slightest.
There was really no winning for Rami when it comes to this, though, because most of the folk that led the “‘Rhapsody’ sucks!” train made up their minds on the film before it even hit theaters, and were looking for any and all flaws it may have had from the jump. If he would’ve sang, he never would’ve filled Freddie’s shoes and ruined an otherwise flawless performance by tarnishing the frontman’s legacy. If he lip-syncs, he’s a fraud who did nothing in the movie except lip-sync. No scenes other than the on-stage performances. Zero. Zip. Nada. None.
I already saw a harsh reception to last night’s ‘Rocketman’ trailer, where Taron Egerton is playing Elton John and doing the singing himself, as opposed to the film using the classic impersonator/original recording combo…
What do you want from these people? You want ‘em to just be Mystique from the X-Men and morph into those people for real? There’s no winning.
So yeah…if you didn’t like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – fine. If you HATED ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, I get that too. Don’t act like it was because of something meaningless you found out months after you saw the flick, though.
TL;DR – I wanted Bradley Cooper to win ‘Best Actor’ last night, and thought he gave an overall better performance in ‘A Star Is Born’ than Rami Malek did in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It had absolutely nothing to do with the insanely uninformed, “one sang, one didn’t” narrative from last night, though.
Final Note: I didn’t see ‘Vice’. Heard Bale was great.