Rocketman is directed by Dexter Fletcher. It stars Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden, and Jamie Bell.
Legendary musician Elton John finds himself in rehab following years of drugs, alcohol, and stress from life on the road and performing have taken a toll on him. Looking back, he faces memories of the past, including his boyhood with an unaffectionate father and an indifferent alcoholic mother, his first experiences as a musician, and the partnership with songwriter Bernie Taupin which would catapult him to superstardom. But the price of fame is high, as John life spirals out of control as he must come to terms with himself and his demons.
With posters featuring the tagline “Based on a true fantasy,” It’s clear Rocketman isn’t meant a traditional rock biopic. Hell, it’s got as much in common with a musical as it does music biopics, in many regards. The movie combines snapshots of John’s life with choreographed sequences, telling the story of the young man once known as Reginald Dwight. It’s a highly ambitious film, but unfortunately, an uneven one which can’t decides if it wants to be a musical spectacle or a more conventional rock biopic. Both approaches suffer as a result, and many relationships don’t get the emphasis they deserve. Some are omitted entirely. However, Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle, Kingsman) steals the show as the flamboyant performer.
The best thing about Rocketman is its leading man. In recent years, I’ve seen Taron Egerton pop up on numerous films. Whether playing an Olympic ski jumper or a gentlemanly secret agent, this guy’s a ton of fun every time I see him on the big screen. In Rocketman, Egerton finds the role he was born to play. Beautifully displaying John’s flamboyant side and his vulnerable, depressed inner self stemming from a troubled childhood and personal identity crises, he owns every scene he’s in. Elton John is a man who’s got to be the center of attention anywhere he goes or whatever he does, and complete with his over-the-top costumery, Egerton does justice to the man he’s portraying here. (Interesting Trivia: Egerton previously appeared in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, in which the real Elton John also appears, playing a fictional version of himself.)
The choreography and cinematography of the film is astonishing. In our initial scenes, John is in rehab, in a drab and blandly-colored grayish environment, yet he wears a bright red Devil stage costume, giving him quite the contrast to everything around him. In the choreographed sequence which follows, he makes himself the center of attention in more ways than one. This, followed by a sequence of young John playing the piano in a bar, growing into an adult playing the same bar with his first band, sets the stage for what could have been an awesome rock musical, but this format is quickly abandoned, and it becomes a rather dull biopic of sorts, with the choreographed musical sequences only sporadically returning. If you want to go all-in and make a rock musical, make a rock musical. If you want to make a biopic, make a biopic. Don’t give the audience something in between.
This shouldn’t be taken as a literal and completely factual biopic, either. The filmmakers play fast and loose with the facts, so you’ll see a lot of anachronisms and things which were deliberately changed and played up for more drama. The omissions of key personnel from John’s life like Long John Baldry and Gus Dudgeon is tragic, and even an ill-fated marriage (to a woman) is brushed aside in the blink of an eye. John’s inner demons and problems with substance abuse get emphasized, but the movie tries to push the point too hard, and many repetitive sequences stem from it. Despite this, I do appreciate that the film is rated R and not toned down for more general audiences.
Rocketman is a decent enough film. I loved the choreography in the musical sequences, but they end up feeling like an afterthought and are shafted in favor of scenes more like what you’d find in a conventional biopic, though Taron Egerton shines as Elton John. Rent it when it comes out on home formats.
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
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