Rocketman is an elaborate musical fantasy. Bursting at the sequined seams with the glitz, glamour, and sensationalism of the irrepressible Elton John. The film eschews the standard, straightforward biopic approach. Director Dexter Fletcher, the true architect of Bohemian Rhapsody‘s success, showers you with stardust and sadness. The meteoric rise to success was filled with self-loathing, alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction. It’s a wild ride, squarely on the shoulders of Taron Egerton. The actor is truly remarkable in his portrayal of Elton John. The year’s first Oscar contender will have you dancing in the aisles.
We first meet Elton John (Taron Egerton) in full costumed regalia, high on drugs, and desperate for help. He sings, dances, and plops down in a therapy circle. The other patients are surprised and amused. Then the tone becomes serious. Elton begins his story as young Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley), a painfully shy boy with a cold, unloving father (Steven Mackintosh), and firebrand mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). His only childhood respite was the piano, an instrument in which he naturally excelled. He was so skilled, young Reggie received a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London.
Reggie Dwight spent his teenage years playing local pubs, then as a stage pianist for touring soul singers. He saw first hand what was needed to command the audience. You had to have flashy clothes and a catchy name. The newly minted Elton John is introduced to a young songwriter, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), by the irascible record producer, Dick James (Stephen Graham). Elton and Bernie were a match made in songwriting heaven. Their music began to storm the UK charts. But when the United States came calling, Elton John had to defeat his long seeded self hatred. He overcame the hurdle by succumbing to a drugs, sex, and rock and roll lifestyle. Depravity masked his pain through many years and millions of albums sold. But every rocket comes crashing down to earth in the end.
Rocketman has the feel of a showstopper Broadway musical. There are magnificently staged song and dance numbers interspersed with somber moments of reflection. The music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin is expertly used to accompany the mood of the scene. His raucous drug binging, homosexual liaisons, and concerts are high powered, head-bopping affairs. The gloom of his childhood, alcoholism, and loneliness are near tearjerkers with his sadder, solemn songs. The placement of the music in Elton’s early life story is the foundation of Rocketman. It brings together every facet of his upbringing to the fever dream world of a global popstar.
Taron Egerton transforms into Elton John. This is no facsimile, but a true inhabitation of the character. Egerton sings in his own voice. His interpretation of Elton John is to give light to his struggles as a man and musician. The film’s most striking moments are Elton at his low points. The anguish on Taron Egerton’s face as Elton is constantly rejected by his father is heartbreaking. It’s a reminder that no amount of fame or money can overcome how you feel about yourself. Taron Egerton is simply transcendent.
Lightning does indeed strike twice for Dexter Fletcher. He was preparing to film Rocketman when Bryan Singer was fired from Bohemian Rhapsody. Fletcher finished the film, which made nearly a billion dollars at the box office and won four Oscars; including Best Actor for star Rami Malek. Rocketman is an entirely different animal. It is a full on musical, resplendent with choreographed dancing and supporting characters singing along. It also addresses Elton John’s homosexual lifestyle with more graphic sex scenes. Fletcher may receive criticism for the lack of depth in both films. Rocketman never gets too granular. Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, the music is forefront. I have zero issues with Fletcher’s approach. Rocketman is Elton John unfiltered. The film is a glorious snapshot of his life.
Rocketman is going to be adored by Elton John’s fanbase. The musical element will also attract fans of that genre. I can already predict it will be a Broadway show. Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Stephen Graham deliver award worthy supporting performances. They may be standing alongside Taron Egerton during award season. Rocketman is produced by Marv Films and Rocket Pictures with distribution by Paramount.
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