For those who have never seen Elton John live in concert, Rocketman aka ‘Rocket Man’ (the actual song title) makes a serious effort to convey those raw emotions on the big screen.
Like any biographical film, there are bound to be flaws, or some artistic license taken with the timelines. In Rocketman, none of that matters. Like an Elton John performance, this movie is about raw entertainment from start to finish.
Taron Egerton does an admirable job in the Elton John role, singing and performing all of the songs himself (no lip-syncing here). This is what sets it apart from last years’ Bohemian Rhapsody, which appeared a little bit too contrived for my taste.
Egerton as Rocketman has also included a few ‘Jersey Boys’ feel good elements of optimism.
Yet, this is not a perfect film, but neither was Elton John who wrestled with numerous demons throughout his life.
Rocketman is by no means a truly historical recollection, (nor does it pretend to be). It is however, a logical way to spend two hours escaping reality with some great music and solid performances. Even the title of the film captures Elton’s rags to riches life. Thankfully, the producers didn’t name it after his 1973 album ‘Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player’.
There’s speculation on how the name Elton John came from Britain’s Reginald Dwight as fellow band members Elton Dean and Long John Baldry more likely than John Lennon. But, the fantastical human story of a tormented, later knighted individual emerges in the early 1970s of a musical icon. Without even other memorable entries in his catalog like “Candle In The Wind” which would later be re-recorded in memory of Princess Diana.
Rocket man stars Taron Egerton (Eddie The Eagle, Kingsmen: The Secret Service), Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Help), and is directed lithely by Dexter Fletcher who also completed last year’s celebrated, if more chaotic, by-the-numbers biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in which a riveting Rami Malek brought home the Best Actor Oscar.
There’s a little more dynamism on display from Fletcher able to see the project through full circle in his collaboration with scribe Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse, Victoria & Abdul) who produces insightful entertainment within a jukebox-like format, not without the consequences of the perks of sex, drugs, and rock-n’-roll as a rehab stint initially indicates Egerton’s John (as an adult).
Jamie Bell (fondly remembered from the aforementioned compelling Elliot and now a father with off-screen missus Kate Mara) delivers strong support as the flamboyantly dressed gay musician’s lyricist and loyal chum Bernie Taupin. Madden is manager and lover John Reid, while Howard and Steven Mackintosh are his parents with all being of an unsympathetic, callous variety. More likeable are Gemma Jones as gran and Stephen Graham as Dick James, Elton’s first manager.
Most of this backup is dwarfed because of the energy and commitment vividly rendered by Egerton (who some still may think doesn’t quite eclipse what Malek accomplished even with the compromised Mercury) who importantly does his own vocals. It becomes clear how an insignificant lad feels in trying to make a name and blast-off in an unforgiving global climate filled with much change. Confusion and desperation is attached with fame and glory in an amazing breakthrough in a difficult struggle for love and affection.
An uncensored musical biographical drama has a chameleonic, surreal quality at times which invokes a more thoughtful, serious presentation. Yes, the darker side of celebrity is on view in Fletcher’s assured, even bold expressionism that keeps Egerton from any mannered, studied rendering of a well-established arc featuring (not abundantly) a cheerful joy within unions cherished by John.
Even with all the clichés inherent in this kind of film, Rocketman still maintains an emotional magnetism, obviously through the staging and execution of a vital, vibrant songbook where over two score are performed (like “Tiny Dancer”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Saturday Night”, et. al.), often in toe-tapping fashion that maybe those born well after an L.A. Troubadour appearance might even find a little mesmerizing. Fletcher, Hall, and Egerton (even without the scope or striking climactic musical flourish of Live Aid in Rhapsody) are able to combine to make an artistic genius resonant in the dramatic, smooth unfolding of His Song.