Directed by Dexter Fletcher.
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh, Tate Donovan, Harriet Walter, Celinde Schoenmaker, Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley.
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.
Rocketman is a riot of music, colour – and heartache. Its extravagance seems to perfectly encapsulate the showman whose story it tells. Anyone pondering similarities with Bohemian Rhapsody (after all, they partially share a director) can be stopped in their tracks. Rocketman is here to show that, just because it may also be a retro biopic stuffed with timeless hits and cocaine, that doesn’t mean it feels the need to be constrained by any formula. Dexter Fletcher’s imaginative and fun movie-making lends a refreshing twist to the musician origins tale, especially when he lets loose in the bigger production numbers and plays with how – and where – music can transport you.
Of course, in Rocketman, the music is on point, with a back catalogue including ‘Crocodile Rock’, ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘I’m Still Standing’ and ‘Bennie and the Jets’ to whip through. The songs are blended organically with the narrative, feeding into the story and revealing context to their creation (whether real or artistically enhanced) and without – for the most part – feeling too shoehorned in or predictable. Of course the costumes are extravagant, for the biopic of a man known to have dressed up like Elizabeth I, a bumblebee and a sparkly baseball player – and this is aside from his unparalleled collection of spectacles and feathered headpieces. But, perhaps most excitingly, the choreography is thrilling. Its staging is theatrical and avant garde, more like a stage show than a film, which fits in with the spectacle Elton John enjoys creating.
A large portion of the film’s success can be pinned on Taron Egerton, who has experience in tentpole fare like Kingsman: The Secret Service (successful) and Robin Hood (less successful). Rocketman should, if justice is served, propel him into the highest echelons of Hollywood. Egerton isn’t impersonating John, where even the most assured attempt – such as Rami Malek’s of Freddie Mercury – can jar, but more channelling his essence. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t look or sound particularly like him (although he does showcase a great set of pipes): he’s truly delving into his character and honing in on what drove John to leave behind Reg Dwight. As well as his utter devotion to the part, Egerton has a total lack of vanity. As previously shown in Eddie the Eagle, it really helps him to excel at playing vulnerable, quiet outsiders stoking a fearsome fire of ambition within. His natural sympathy has you wholeheartedly on John’s side even when, as he eloquently puts it, he’s been “behaving like a c*** since 1975”.
The rehab meeting that underpins the film’s narrative structure might be a little on the nose and simplistic for some, but it provides a good basis for a retrospective analysis of John’s life by the man himself. It’s also pertinent to mention here that Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, are listed as executive producer and producer on Rocketman. So there’s a sense of John controlling the narrative and signing off on story, leading to natural bias – even if he is happy to lay bare the coldness of his childhood. This is also a caveat of Bohemian Rhapsody too, although Rocketman tackles the ravages of addiction rather more robustly.
In its simplest terms, Rocketman is really the love story of Elton John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, which remains one of the most enduring professional relationships in music history. As Taupin, Jamie Bell easily reminds us of how truly excellent he is in everything. Eminently sympathetic, like Egerton, Bell lends credence to the film’s loving portrayal of Taupin as John’s truest friend. In (character) contrast, Stephen Graham provides crude humour, tearing it up as bullish record man Dick James; his enjoyably dorky assistant Ray (Charlie Rowe) is shown to be the one keen to take a chance on the untested team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Tate Donovan’s small part as LA club owner Doug Weston is made memorable by his campy embrace of the California scene – and multiple innuendos.
The rest of the cast is just as exemplary, from Gemma Jones as his supportive nan, Ivy, to Richard Madden as sharkish manager John Reid – smooth, handsome and coiffured as a Ken doll. Bryce Dallas Howard is an unexpected choice as John’s mother, Sheila, and, although her accent occasionally wavers, she certainly relishes the bitterness. Younger (Kit Connor) and youngest (Matthew Illesley) Reggie/Elton are also worthy of praise for energetic and impressive performances in a demanding role.
It could be argued the film wraps up a little abruptly – and possibly too neatly – with John’s sobriety. However, some of this is down to the fizzy pace of the film: two hours flashes by in no time at all. There is a sense there’s more story to tell, but then where to stop? As an origin story – and period biopic – Rocketman does justice, with an appropriate panache, to the early years of a bonafide music legend.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★