Synopsis – A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John‘s breakthrough years.
My Take – In the wake of the massive success of the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, in the form of the Best Actor Oscar win for its leading star, Rami Malek, and an enormous box office take of $903.7 million worldwide, an Elton John biopic was inevitable.
After all with about 300 million albums sold, he remains arguably one of the most successful recording artists of all time. His songs are amongst the most prodigious achievements in human history and the artist behind those mystifying compositions has also managed to live a life worthy of being regaled in cinema.
However, unlike Bohemian Rhapsody which focused much of the backstage drama and story on the late singer, here, the film outlines his career, from his start in the late 1960s to his stint in rehab in 1990, with a bit of his childhood thrown in.
Frankly, on paper, this is a boilerplate biopic, showing his rise, his inner demons, spiral to the bottom, and his redemption, but director Dexter Fletcher, who stepped into complete Bohemian Rhapsody after director Bryan Singer‘s firing, has something else in mind, as he does an about-turn from that rather more straightforward tale.
Here, he blows right through the trite plot with gusto, and as the grandiose showmanship of Elton demands, and brings us an extravagant musical, with an indulgence in melodrama and large choreographed dances, making the film leap away from realism into a soaring film musical exploration.
All of course, upheld by a unique performance from its star, Taron Egerton. If you are a fan of Elton John, and I believe that is a safe assumption if you are a viewer of the film, you shan’t be disappointed with the renditions of most of his greatest hits in this dazzling jukebox musical fantasy.
The story follows Elton John (Taron Egerton), who enters a rehab in a feathery orange stage outfit, and in midst of a confession group talks about his loveless life as Reginald Dwight. Growing up in a household which included an absent and disinterested father (Steven Mackintosh), a bitter mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) and caring grandmother (Gemma Jones), who unknowingly plant seeds for this future creative genius.
While his parents don’t consider him to be anything special, Reggie continues to pursue of his dream of becoming a musician with Elton John as his stage name. A dream which eludes him until he is paired with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), a struggling lyricist, hereby sending both down a road to superstardom, making him a multimillionaire at the age of 25.
But unknown to everyone around, that as he continues to claim spotlight as a musician, his is still struggling to come to terms with his identity as a gay man. In his hope to find love, he indulges in a love affair with his manager John Reid (Richard Madden), who in turns encourages Elton to adopt the flamboyant costumes and embrace a hedonistic lifestyle of substance abuse and extravagance that accentuated self-loathing and self-doubt. Eventually Elton has to learn to come to terms with his thinking and his feeling of wanting and needing.
Tagged as a musical fantasy, here, director Dexter Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall do an outstanding job of pulling back the curtain and revealing how Reginald Dwight became arguably the largest music icon on the planet. The screenplay, production design and costumes pay equal homage to the man’s music and his penchant for drama – Versace robes, flamboyant headdresses, and sunglasses of all shapes, shades and sequins.
I especially enjoyed the details in the story, such as how he picked the name Elton John and his brief marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker). What the film paints beautifully is a picture of the musician’s life, both the incredible highs and tragic lows. You get to see a respectful and psychological turn in his persona, you get to witness the heartbreaking “addictions” that he constantly forces himself into, you get to view the uncut collision of him dealing with his sexuality, and you even get to feel that loss of love that Elton had felt when he persistently questioned his relationship with peers.
Elton’s childhood and his rocky relationship with his parents, which help explains his need for adoration, combined the root of his self-loathing is deftly written and integrated into the story. All of these affairs are dispensed without and blockades or any desires of censorship and I must commend the filmmakers for going about this risky decision.
Whereas, the integration of Freddy Mercury’s troubled personal life in Bohemian Rhapsody was not nearly as successful or believable, here, these scenes do not feel like collages in as an afterthought. However, the best way in which this film differs from Bohemian Rhapsody, are its musicals, which director Fletcher stages with real panache.
Sure, the film really only has this one trick – but it uses it well enough to get by. The songs always pertain to the presented events transpiring on screen. The methods they use to present the songs as well, offer some more than compulsive and devouring visuals.
There are musical numbers where characters sing Elton’s songs to convey their thoughts and emotions in a dramatic scene, to reenactments of historical musical performances that are scintillating kaleidoscopes; that included Elton actually exploding in air as fireworks. I also appreciated how they redid all the songs to fit the scenes in a more appropriate manner. It makes the film seem less like a compilation of Elton’s original greatest-hits and more like a rendition of what each song means to the story.
However, other than the fact that there are already plenty of artistic liberties taken here, it found it disappointing to see how the film to chooses to emphasize on similar points for their self-discovery and growth, particularly the aspects of both of them having a heartless, manipulative and abusive agent/manager who is also their lover and brings out the worst in focal character.
Nevertheless, the cast here is brilliant. Much of the film depended on the incredible authenticity and cannily believability of Taron Egerton as Elton and without a doubt he deserves an immense amount of praise for his performance in this role. Here, he is just bleeding with range and chaotic pizazz in this encapsulation of a contrasted human individual. He fully encapsulates every aspect of Elton, including his display of exceptional vocal talents and energetic, rhythmic dance moves. I sense awards season has a place for him.
In supporting roles, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Steven Mackintosh are also exceptional. On the whole, ‘Rocketman’ is a wholly enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining musical fantasy uplifted by an electrifying performance from Taron Egerton.
Directed – Dexter Fletcher
Rated – R
Run Time – 121 minutes