Directed by Dexter Fletcher.
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Harriet Walter, Tate Donovan, Charlie Rowe, Jimmy Vee, Tom Bennett, Kamil Lemieszewski, Sophie Carmen-Jones, Jason Pennycooke, Kit Connor, Matthew Illesley, Diana Alexandra Pocol, Max Cross, Guillermo Bedward, Ramzan Miah, Tanisha Spring, and Stephen Graham.
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.
The first glimpse we get of Taron Egerton portraying legendary rock musician Elton John in Rocketman is him in one of his excessively over-the-top stage outfits (this one swallowing the persona whole, devilishly red, and complete with horns) presumably to go play a massive gig, but immediately director Dexter Fletcher (who also had a hand in stepping in for the drama on the set of Bohemian Rhapsody, effectively filming probably the only good parts of that mishandled biopic) subverts what is going on; Elton crashes through the large double doors only to sit down in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. This intervention will come to serve as the framing device for an incredibly layered and powerful character study diving into the successful career and personal demons of one of pop-culture’s most influential figures. In other words (and normally I wouldn’t compare films like this, but in this case, it’s pertinent to not only what audiences want to see and what they deserve, but the adaptation the celebrities deserve) it’s everything Bohemian Rhapsody should have been.
Elton John confesses everything from the start; he’s addicted to alcohol, cocaine, sex, shopping, and more. Like any actually penetrating psychological discourse, Elton begins his story from the beginning, back when he was known as Reginald Dwight, a young child living with his biological mother (Bryce Dallas Howard looking rather unrecognizable as Sheila) and grandmother, under routine distress from arguing between mom and dad. “He was a family man and he loved us”, Elton John says before this leg of the life story kicks off (by the way, the transitions from present-day to past are done imaginatively and often with crowd-pleasing musical cues), where we witness the complete opposite.
It’s typical addict behavior, burying the truth until it comes out during heartbreaking and life-altering confession. And that’s the difference between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody; one of these films wants to stick its head in the sand and ignore the darker side and ugly human impulses, whereas here there is no flinching or smoothing the story over. It’s easy to imagine the real Elton John watching this and feeling some sort of catharsis and release from putting everything out there into the hands of filmmakers and watching this very true the life story unfold. By the time ‘I’m Still Standing’ makes an appearance, the lyrics and the meaning of that song become a transcendent sledgehammer to your emotions.
Rocketman also has a stunning creative vision, one that isn’t content with simply doling out as many popular songs as possible like a greatest hits package. No, it’s a full-on musical that uses quite a few foot-tapping numbers to craft energetic dance choreography segments around, sometimes with more than just Elton John singing. Early on, the whole family is a part of a song, allowing viewers to do more than listen to good music, getting into the headspace of these characters. If Ellen John’s work is not being utilized for a song and dance number, there’s a strong chance it is still being used to convey a point; the usage of Rocketman along with its juxtaposing visuals is an arresting sequence filled with despair and hope, depression and optimism.
None of it works without Taron Egerton, who is wholly tapped into the mental state of Elton John, an unequivocally talented performer with flamboyant charm killing his original self to become something new entirely, with the problem being he does not even know who he wants to become. There is no love from his father even as one of the wealthiest men on the planet, and even his own accepting mother tells him that his homosexual lifestyle will never reward him with true love. Considering the close-minded time period, there’s also no guarantee fans will continue to be supportive, causing him to cover up with fake heterosexual marriages. Essentially, it explains the ludicrously elaborate costumes (which are notoriously real and accurate, and absolutely should be up for awards, as should Taron Egerton in general), killing all the pain away with drugs, and the belief that people only pay to see the Elton John that he has made public to society. Morbidly, Rocketman is about slowly killing yourself once the thought is planted into one’s head that love is something they can never have.
Intriguingly, the film never stays in too dark of a place, likely because there was no keeping Elton John down. The occasional snapbacks to the present day are well done, peeling away layers of Elton John one at a time before a liberating finale that makes use of the human mind and the distinct powers of cinematic storytelling. There are certain areas of Elton’s life that could be explored more (pretty much every friendship feels undercooked, but there are numerous scenes of homoerotic intimacy including a quick but effective one with Richard Madden’s John Reid), and it can’t quite shake every biopic trope, but the flaws really only boil down to wanting more.
Rocketman gets nearly everything right; the directing flourishes with style, Taron Egerton is committed, vulnerable, and self-destructive, the music carries a purpose to the screen, and it’s inspiring to anyone that has ever felt broken or defeated by an addiction. The road to recovery is difficult; it takes support, effort, and sometimes just loving yourself. Any addiction can be defeated, except maybe shopping. Even Elton John couldn’t overcome that one. Serving as an executive producer, maybe he bought his way to an incredible biopic. Whatever the case may be, Rocketman is further proof that Elton John will still be standing for a long time to come.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com