“Bohemian Rhapsody’s” surprise Golden Globe win for Best Drama on Sunday may have pleased its millions of fans around the world but it doubtless left movie critics dumbfounded. While Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury was praised in most reviews of the movie, the film was widely panned, getting a paltry score of 49 on the Metacritic and a rating of just 62 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.
Scanning through the Golden Globes since their inception in 1943 and including all the winners since the top category was split into drama and musical/comedy, “Bohemian Rhapsody” ranks as one of the worst-reviewed.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is famous for nominating movies whose only qualification has seemed to be the feast of canapés and stars fed to its members in the run-up. (It is also famous for putting films in the wrong category, as they did this season with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star is Born.”). But the vast majority of Golden Globes have gone to movies that have either paired them with Oscars or were legitimate contenders.
And, now, you have to assume, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a pretty good bet for a Best Picture Oscar nomination and Malek has to be considered the frontrunner for Best Actor.
So, where was the disconnect between critics, the world and the much-maligned HFPA? “Bohemian Rhapsody” is nearing $200 million in domestic box office and a half-billion worldwide.
The answer must be the enduring love of the rock band Queen, its iconic front man, and Malek’s eerily convincing performance. While praising the actor, most of the negative reviews have challenged the film’s loose rendition of time and place and its muted approach to Mercury’s reckless lifestyle.
It’s the nature of critics to know the history of a biographical person and to expect more than a passing verisimilitude to the world he or she occupied. For ticket-buying audiences, however, a plausible portrayal and a passing verisimilitude equal a good time. Most people were likely drawn to the movie for its music and got a rock concert, plus a chance to meet the band.
As for the foreign press, whose job it is to write for readers in foreign lands, the global embrace of Freddie Mercury made it a movie very easy to vote for. If it failed to take us into the leather bars and other dark places where Freddie, doomed to die from AIDS at 45, spent a lot of his time, his and the movie’s fans would probably like to say “Thank you.”
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