After the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, a second movie about a flamboyant larger than life rockstar in the 70s and 80s might fall in the shadow of what came before it. But I think it’s unfair to lump Rocketman in with that other film. Especially because this movie is ten times better than Bohemian Rhapsody. Like, glaringly better. But let’s move on.
Rocketman focuses on the personal life and career of Elton John (Taron Egerton). He grows up in working class England in a very unhappy home. His father is never around and when he is, he’s cold and distant. His mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) isn’t much better. She thinks of her son as a burden she must carry. Young Elton escapes his harsh reality through music. He’s a piano prodigy, perfectly imitating any piece he hears. He pursues a career in music as he matures, playing in a band and backing other artists. Elton’s life changes dramatically when he meets Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Bernie has the lyrics to match up with Elton’s music. It’s a perfect partnership. Fame, fortune, and amazing songs soon follow. And just as quickly comes the spiral, with alcohol and drugs.
Even though Rocketman is considered a biopic it’s really more than that. Much more fantastical, for sure. Elton and other characters break into song and dance numbers all over the place. And his music is used to establish the mood and further the plot of the movie. It feels like an existing Broadway musical that was adapted for the screen. I was already a big fan of his songs, but it was interesting to see them staged and performed in new way here. “Tiny Dancer”, “Amoreena”, “Pinball Wizard”, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” are standouts. Director Dexter Fletcher creates a fun, exciting spectacle for the viewer. The whirlwind of Elton’s life is captured beautifully through his lens. And hats off (no pun here) to the fabulous costumes designed by Julian Day. So many sequins!
I also enjoyed the fact that this was an R-rated movie. Elton recently said, “I haven’t led a PG-13 life”. So, his movie shouldn’t shy away from those elements. You get to see him exploring his sexuality, complete with gay sex scenes. There’s also the heavy drug use. Sometimes a bit too heavy. His downward spiral felt like it went on for far too long. But that was the truth of his experience.
The heart of the film is Egerton. He’s in almost every scene, carrying it all on his back. He doesn’t just slap on a wig and do an imitation of Elton. He offers up his own interpretation of the icon. It’s a strong performance. Huge points for actually using his own singing voice and not lip synching…unlike other actors in recent biopics. Bell and Howard also shine in their roles. Howard has a particularly tough job of making a heartless woman seem human.
I walked out of the theatre with a renewed appreciation for Elton and the path he took to get to where he is now. It’s an inspiring story of highs, lows, self-acceptance, and perseverance. With a fantastic soundtrack to accompany it.