The art (or lack thereof) of the music biopic genre

The art (or lack thereof) of the music biopic genre

Tori O’Campo

A&E Editor

Queen has been an important part of my musical library for as long as I can remember. Frontman Freddie Mercury has always held a cloud of ethereal and mysterious presence in my mind, and everytime I listen to A Night At The Opera, I listen with so much curiosity for the raw creativity that went into making an album that was so revolutionary for its time and has yet to be paralleled, even 44 years later. When I heard about the creation of Bohemian Rhapsody, and that Rami Malek was to play Mercury, I was both excited and hesitant. Queen has such an interesting and important story that I, along with many others, prayed would not be misrepresented. With the hype built around the film at its release and my friends going back multiple times within the first few weeks, I assumed that 20th Century Fox, and the films other producers, had actually pulled through. 

However, when finally got around to seeing it with my boyfriend two weekends ago, I began to realize that Bohemian Rhapsody was just another music biopic with the same old tropes and plot structure. See if you have seen this movie before: the first scene will be the band on the brink of one of their most iconic moments, then a sudden cut to the artists’ lives before they made it big. We then follow the band’s story of going from struggles to stardom. Along the way, we see the band dealing with the music industry, the emphasis on how their unique way of doing things pushed them to the top, the tours and rise of egos, and maybe even tension that almost breaks up the band. We eventually catch up with the moment in the time of the opening scene, we reflect on how far they made it, and, we, as the audience, can finish the film feeling inspired and full of warm feelings.

Bohemian Rhapsody is now the highest grossing biopic movie and has won four Grammys, two Golden Globes, and a variety of other important film awards. After I finished the movie, however, I could not help but think that maybe their research and visual accuracy during the Live Aid scene was enough to win their awards, but the overall movie, in my opinion, was not. Do not get me wrong – I did enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody. I was touched by the telling of the story despite inaccuracies, poor editing, and often cheesy moments, but I cannot help but wonder how they could have portrayed it less formulaically.

Rami Malek perfectly replicates the Freddie Mercury we love.  COURTESY OF  20th Century Fox Film

Rami Malek perfectly replicates the Freddie Mercury we love. COURTESY OF 20th Century Fox Film

The artists who are unique enough for Hollywood to want to make a film about them do not deserve to have their unparalleled stories fit into the same tropes that have been exhausted. Despite the consistencies in most bands’ rise to fame, there are just as many, if not more, unique aspects that could completely influence the way the writers’ approach to the version of the story they want to portray. Ray Charles, N.W.A., The Runaways, and Queen all have very different backgrounds and cultural importances, yet the films Ray (2004), Straight Outta Compton (2015), The Runaways (2010), and Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) all fall within the same story structure with the same tropes.

Nostalgia is an easy market, and many of the most unique musicians have dedicated fan bases that will go see any movie made about their life inspirations. I believe that these movies can be important, as they remind us of an important past while also allowing the stories of these  artists to be heard by new audiences and younger generations. However, the formulas hinder the biopic genre from being successful in my eyes. For example, I do not believe the writers of Bohemian Rhapsody had to write in cheesy lines or look over specific aspects of Mercury’s life to make a more “interesting” film in order to fit it into the mold. In fact, I think it specifically took away from the potential impact of telling the Queen story. This is a common practice that writers of the average musician biopic enforce because, apparently, they claim that it is what sells. However, from my point of view as a consumer, the need to stick to a cheesy formula and the fear of breaking off to make a more profound movie hinders the spirit of the creative forces being covered.

The trailer for Rocketman (2019), a biopic on Elton John, was recently released, and Stardust, a David Bowie biopic, has been rumored to be in the planning stages and could be premiered within the next year. Musician biopics, especially musicians of the ‘70s, do not seem to be going anywhere. As our society seems to be romanticising the cultural aspects of the ‘70s, it only makes sense that Hollywood is capitalizing on that nostalgia and that movie-goers are eager to indulge in it. My only hope is that the production studios behind these films not only respect the spirit of the musician through the in-depth research that is already seen in many of these biopic films, but also by breaking the standard and straying from the cheesy tropes, in light of what these creative minds stood for.

Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor