At a 1978 launch party for Queen’s album Jazz, Freddie Mercury furnished a New Orleans hotel with nude waiters, snake charmers, and—according to rumor—trays of cocaine. For Mercury’s birthday in 1987, the singer drew 700 friends to Ibiza for a soiree that’s still commemorated annually on the island. At another birthday, in 1985 at a bar in Munich, he asked his guests to dress in black-and-white drag while he caroused in harlequin pants, generalissimo tassels, and no shirt. You can watch the footage, and you can wish you were there.
Yet there’s exactly one party scene in Bohemian Rhapsody, the plastic new biopic directed (mostly) by Bryan Singer. Rami Malek’s Mercury, lonely and bored, decides to invite everyone he can into his home. He’s dressed in the same epaulets as the real Mercury was at the aforementioned 1985 party, and his guests revel in all manner of costume. The only three outliers amid the fun are the other members of Queen, curly-maned and straitlaced, looking nauseated. Mercury tries to get guitarist Brian May to dance. May refuses, calls Mercury a jerk, and storms out.
Bizarrely, the movie seems to be on May’s side. The Mercury on-screen is a bit of a jerk, not to mention frail, desperate, and easily swayed. Though it worships the singer’s panache and talent by vibrantly re-creating Mercury’s iconic performances, Bohemian Rhapsody also holds up his extravagance as something lurid and hollow. All film adaptations of reality must bend the truth, but Anthony McCarten’s script gives off the distinct impression of having been fussed with by May and Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor, so as to polish their reputations—at the expense of Mercury’s and, on some level, in judgment of the carpe diem attitude for which he stood.