I have a certain love for Elton John. I definitely grew up listening to his music and, because I’m not one for change, have continued to listen to him as I grew up. I remember us having the ‘Candle in the Wing’ CD single that was released in honour of Princess Diana. ‘Candle in the Wind’ is a decent song but that wasn’t the song I was interested in. The CD also featured ‘Something About the Way You Look Tonight’ and I loved that song so much that I would play it on repeat. I still love that song because he sounds incredible. But I’m getting off-topic. What I’m trying to say is, I was excited about the release of this film even before I’d seen any of the trailers. When they came out, it only made it worse. Taron Egerton was perfectly cast and the whole thing looked fucking insane. The perfect antidote to the tame Bohemian Rhapsody. This really looked like the kind of biopic that Elton John would want. It was loud, over-the-top, and brutally honest. Yet, as most films do these days, its release came and went without me doing anything about it. Although, actually I was supposed to see it with a work friend but then I selfishly got another job and it became a nightmare to organise. This weekend I decided it was time.
Although, I have to be honest and say that there was another reason that I put off watching this film. I’d listened to the soundtrack on Spotify and was mostly underwhelmed. For the most part, it sounded like an amateur dramatic theatre production. Listening to ‘I Want Love’ made me want to cry. For one thing, the child actor was so pronounced and too musical theatre for the feel of the film. Then there was whatever the hell Bryce Dallas Howard was doing. I didn’t think it was right and it made me worry about the way the film was going to play out. Although, I will admit that the songs where Taron Egerton took over seemed to be on more solid ground. He’s a safe pair of hands and a pretty decent singer.
And, when watching, I agree that the part of the film that deals with the singer’s childhood is the weakest. Howard attempts to do a British accent but it’s incredibly off-putting. The children who play young Reg Dwight are fine actors but I still maintain that their singing voices don’t work for the material. The opening for ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)’ is kind of excruciating. That kid clearly didn’t learn how to sing rock songs when he was training to be an actor. However, the opening scenes do set up the emotional crux of the film. We see young Reggie desperate for any sign of love from his father but left wanting. It’s a lack of love in his early life that dries Elton through the film.
The film opens as Elton, wearing a sequined devil’s outfit, enters an addiction group. It’s quite a moment. As he sits in the meeting, he goes on to reflect on his life and we zip back and forth in time. It’s a fun opening to the film and puts Elton in the role of narrator. This means the film is able to get away with things that a straight biopic wouldn’t be able to. It can embellish the story with musical numbers that feel like dream-sequences. It can misremember and put things out of sequence. The framing narrative also lets us see early on that this is a film that’s not afraid to get down to the gritty stuff. It doesn’t try and hide who the star really was. It doesn’t hold back with his sexuality. Rocketman is flamboyant, colourful, raw, and great fun. A pretty fitting tribute, I’m sure you’d agree. Is it as raw and honest as it could have been? No, of course not. But it isn’t afraid to get to the deeper stuff.
I guess, in narrative terms, the film sticks to the typical rockstar biopic formula. A shy kid turns to music to fill a hole in his life and becomes mega-famous before turning to drink and drugs. Classic. It’s something we’ve seen before and will see again. However, the director Dexter Fletcher breathes new life into it. The song and dance numbers are all played out stylishly and the song choices are perfect. The chronology might not quite fit but each song has been selected for its feel. The musical numbers add emotional resonance to the narrative and add to the dreamlike state of the film. There are some absolutely breathtaking moments that really bring the film to life. Take the early American gig where Elton starts floating away from the piano. Or the ballet sequence that plays out as the star is transported to the hospital. It’s a fresh and exciting way to approach a musical. Fletcher is just further proving that he is the go-to guy for this sort of thing.
If you’re looking for a visually stunning biopic that really lives up to its star’s reputation then Rocketman is the thing. Taron Egerton does a pretty good job of evoking the man himself. He finds the perfect mix between the rockstar bravado and the hidden fragility. We don’t see much of his personal relationships. Aside from this damaging relationship with his one-time manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), romance isn’t really a big part of this film. His brief marriage to Renate is touched upon briefly enough to show why it happened but without making a big deal out of it. It is John’s friendship with long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) that is the important one. We see how the pair find their creative balance and the twists and turns that follow. Although, Taupin doesn’t really get the time on-screen that he should.
Ultimately, I know that Rocketman has its flaws and I see that there are areas that could be better. Egerton is good but I’m not sure he has the range to completely fulfill the emotional needs of the character. There are moments when the dialogue gets a bit dicey and some moments seem a bit too like a soap opera. It’s hardly the best example of modern film-making. But, as an enjoyable piece of cinema, Rocketman has everything you could want. It feels fresh and fun. Dexter Fletcher breathes new life into the visuals and the choreographed sequences are all great to watch. The singing might be musical theatre but the dancing is all Hollywood. And after watching Bohemian Rhapsody, this feels like the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.