Frequently inventive, often hilarious and shamelessly feel-good, this Elton John biopic from actor turned director Dexter Fletcher is a deeply satisfying tale of triumph over tragedy, held together by a knockout performance from Taron Egerton as one of modern music’s most iconic figures.
Arriving in the wake of a number of other high profile films, Rocketman had a lot to live up to. From Hugh Jackman’s crowd-pleasing The Greatest Showman, to Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning turn as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born (which also rode off with a saddlebag of awards) there have been a number of acclaimed box office releases that have tapped into audiences’ insatiable hunger for a great musical.
The decision to cast Taron Egerton as the leading man in this Elton John flick no doubt raised some eyebrows, and he’s definitely interesting and somewhat surprising choice. But Egerton proved himself a force to be reckoned with in the Kingsman films, and builds on his rising star power here, effortlessly inhabiting John’s larger than life persona in the big dance numbers and channeling his quieter sensitivities in its more muted, reflective moments.
The film opens with its eccentric, bejewelled hero at the height of his career, arriving at an addiction support group and admitting that he has reached a crisis point. The film then dives into numerous flashbacks to show us what brought him there. From child prodigy to pub pianist to internationally best selling pop icon, Rocketman charts the rise, fall and rise (again) of the artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight.
It’s undeniable that Rocketman is a heartfelt love letter to John and his impressive musical catalogue, anchored by a fully committed performance from Taron Egerton. He manages to convey all the familiar ‘Eltonisms’ while depicting the musician’s enduring hurt over his father’s on-going rejection, and the difficult, alienating mantle of fame. While this is hardly new territory for a musical biopic, there’s a truthful, nuanced approach on show and an exploration of toxic masculinity and mental health that feels long overdue on the big screen.
In Rocketman music is the beating heart of the fantasy world its main character seeks refuge in, an endlessly catchy bridge between Elton and others and almost a form of therapy for him, a way to communicate his deepest fears and hopes like nothing else can. It makes sense then that the musical numbers are the backbone of the film, expertly brought to life by Dexter Fletcher’s direction. It’s an impressive musical arrangement that manages to breathe new life into many of Elton John’s most recognisable hits.
The film also features many impressive supporting performances from figures in the orbit of Elton’s star power, not least of all the brilliant Bryce Dallas Howard, who taps into a rich well of emotion as Elton’s mother, enduring her own struggles while trying to come to terms with her son’s fame. Both Jamie Bell (as long-term friend and collaborator Bernie Taupin) and Richard Madden (as manager/lover John Reid) have plenty of moments to shine, with roles that take on more depth and layers as the story progresses.
There is a great deal of story to get through, and sometimes the film stumbles as a result. With so many noteworthy life events to choose from, many pivotal moments had to be left out, and occasionally the film races along from one incident to the next, characters drop out never to be heard from again without explanation, and it leaves some matters feeling unresolved.
But these are smaller problems that likely won’t detract from the film’s charms and the sense that in a genre overflowing with tragic endings, Rocketman stands out by having a shamelessly positive message. As a tribute to Elton John and proof of why he has such enduring popularity, Rocketman really does soar.
Alex Straker | [rating=4]
Biography, Drama | UK, 2019 | 15 | 22nd May 2019 (UK) | Paramount Pictures | Dir.Dexter Fletcher | Taron Egerton,Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones