Rocketman effectively mixes glitz, glam and heartbreak into a compelling and highly entertaining musical biopic that honors its larger-than-life subject, Elton John, who is portrayed with meaning by Taron Egerton.
Rocketman covers the life of legendary musician and performer Elton John. John (Taron Egerton), born Reginald Dwight, has always had a knack for music, even at a young age. His childhood is a turbulent one, as his mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) seems distant from him, his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) even more so. He is given a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, where he would become a prodigy. He eventually meets lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and they collaborate to create some of John’s most famous tunes. Through performances and a record deal, John becomes a sensation. He also gets a new manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), with whom John begins a relationship. But underneath all the fame is struggle. John is grappling to come to terms with his sexuality and develops a drug and alcohol addiction that begins to interrupt his life in huge ways.
This is not your average biopic. Rocketman is a full-blown jukebox musical with John’s recognizable tunes serving as the show numbers. They pop up throughout the film and are used to inform the emotion of the scenes. It is a smart move from director Dexter Fletcher, as this decision imbues the film with a sense of enthusiasm that can be missing from similar movies about top-tier talent. The musical numbers are impressively staged, with dancers, sweeping transitions, bright colors and top-tier energy consuming every portion of the screen, though some of the visual effects can be unconvincing. You’re already guaranteed to tap your toes or sing along to songs like “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” “Tiny Dancer,” and, of course, “Rocket Man.” But incorporating these iconic numbers into the story to inform the character of John gives them so much weight. Cinematographer George Richmond brightens each frame of the numbers for maximum impact, and editor Chris Dickens matches that impact and keeps the film, running at just over 2 hours, moving at a relatively fast pace.
This film is the type of biopic that can delve into the darker aspects of John’s life thanks to its R-rating. While the musical numbers are fun, the film does not lose track of the darkness that John faces. Screenwriter Lee Hall explores many familiar themes of musical biopics, like greedy management, artistic statement, booze, drugs and sex. But, what he manages to do is write a script that does not shy away or lessen the impact of these vices, and it is It is refreshing to see their consequences not skimped over for wider mainstream appeal. John’s homosexuality is a major focus and is thoroughly explored, something the similar biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was criticized for not doing. As you may have heard, this film is the first production from a major Hollywood studio to show a gay male sex scene.
John is such an interesting character, and his many quirks are given their due by Egerton, who delivers the type of performance that will open so many doors for him. He is able to capture John’s many mannerisms and his unbridled energy, but also the personal downfalls. It is a performance that feels like it has much of Egerton’s personality as it does John’s. He also has a great singing voice. His friendship with Bell draws real emotion, and Bell is infectious as Taupin. Madden gives a fine performance, even if his role does not get the same weight as John and Taupin. Another standout is Howard, who is incredible as John’s less-than-caring mother.
Rocketman deserves a lot of credit for having a personality that perfectly matches John. You can tell that the filmmakers truly have an affinity for him and his illustrious career. That love translates on the screen, and what results is a film that shows why John is the complex and interesting showman that he is today. Bill Loellke