Rocketman, like Elton’s flashy clothing, is a colourful mix of storytelling, reality, and daydreams.
Reginald Kenneth Dwight is just a kid of the working classes in 1970s Britain, but when he sits himself down in front of a piano and immediately mimics what he can hear on the radio, his journey to become the sensational musician Elton John has just begun.
So soon after Bohemian Rhapsody‘s release, just seven months, means comparisons are unavoidable. It also means Hollywood is going to leap on any and all stories behind musicians it can; because Rocketman is certainly a good movie!
Directed by that other film’s producer, Dexter Fletcher, who also directed 2015’s Eddie the Eagle (which also stars Rocketman’s lead star Taron Egerton), Rocketman is far more stylish and unorthodox than the comparatively by-the-numbers film-making of Bohemian Rhapsody. We are immediately hit by Egerton as Elton John, storming into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in full costume; the film launches into its tone by having us flashback to him as a child with a music number. Yes, Rocketman is a musical. Background and supporting characters will start dancing and singing, the camera will start racing and diving around as our leads transition between time periods or particular moments in the man’s life. It is riotous, but it is also very enthralling and unique. Once you get used to it.
Some people don’t care for musicals, so the warning is justified; it is fair to call it one. This isn’t to say people burst into song constantly, in fact if they had it would have received a much lower rating. But they only use it for moments that are obviously critical to Elton John’s life, and it certainly gives added emotional heft; were the songs (which are his songs) inspired directly from these moments? Even if they aren’t, the song choices are great.
Taron Egerton has had a bad run of mainstream films recently, namely Kingsman 2 and Robin Hood. The latter is probably something he wants to forget (want another piece of trivia? Elton John himself cameo’ed in Kingsman 2). Egerton is absolutely excellent in this role, providing his own singing throughout, which is spectacular. We also have Jamie Bell as his colleague and songwriter Bernie Taupin, a vanishing Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother, and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) as Elton’s lover and music agent. Everyone is extremely good in their roles, there’s not one performance that weakens the script at all.
Elton himself is not overly glamorised either. It is something that biopics can do if they are created while the person in question is still alive; there’s a desire to appease your most valuable critic. But he isn’t framed as such. It does depict him as being the victim, but also how he doesn’t cope with events well; sinking into an abyss of his own making. The film might often be flight-of-fancy, but it ultimately feels very relatable and compelling when it comes to the people involved.
The film’s screenplay is less linear than Bohemian Rhapsody; following a framing device of Elton explaining how messed up he has become at the AA meeting. The escalation is well done as the character visibly disintegrates out of his flamboyant persona and recover himself. However, whether by design or simply coincidence, the story beats are similar. The tragedy of rockstars is a familiar thing: humble blue-collar beginnings, raw talent shunned by pencil-pushers, skyrocketing success story, love story breaking up the band, corruption and lost of self-worth, recovery. If Rocketman had come first, it would have been as highly received as Bohemian Rhapsody. They are equally good.
It could even become a subjective choice, boiling down to the personalities represented and the type of music on show.
It is a colourful, yet gritty musical depicting a musical genius’s troubled life from the very beginning. It doesn’t hold its punches, but it also wants to enjoy itself at the same time.