In the wake of recent successful biographical films about entertainers, the inevitable production of one of the flamboyant performers of the past century has finally arrived. The songs of Elton John are amongst the most prodigious achievements in human history and the artist behind those mystifying compositions has lived a life worthy of being regaled in cinema. Needless to say, the fruitification of “Rocketman” seems long overdue. And as the grandiose showmanship of Elton demands, this film is an extravagant musical, with an indulgence in melodrama and large choreographed dances.
To be upfront, I am notedly critical of the biopic genre, particularly those that center around musicians and performers, primarily because a life’s story does not provide a narrative structure with an actual plot. When the totality of a career is the crowning achievement of a life that is being depicted, the guidelines are often too vague to create an actual cohesive tale about said life. Biopics are the film counterparts to nonfiction biographies you can find at your local publicly funded library, and if you have not read one of those since doing a book report in Elementary School, you can be forgiven. While the material could be fascinating, the medium consists of a recitation of facts and events, as opposed to an actual story. In my opinion, biographies translate better into a documentary-style film, rather than a forced narrative out of a compilation of factually embellished, loosely connected significant moments.
Having said that, it is to a film’s credit when it tries to be creative with the material it is given, even as it is simultaneously handicapped by its ill-defined goals. “Rocketman” attempts to remedy this obstacle by using Elton’s group therapy in rehab as a framing device, where he recounts his life up until that point. It is not the most original technique ever utilized, but it does signify an effort to create an organized story. But ultimately, people do not go to see films like “Rocketman” to identify if there is a narrative structure or not. Chances are that I am amongst the few who suck the fun out of an experience by demanding certain checkmarks that are irrelevant to most. The masses flock to the theaters to see Elton perform his many hit songs and possibly learn a little something along the way, and by that measure, “Rocketman” succeeds beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is a film with exceptional performances and musical displays.
If you are a fan of Elton John, and I believe that is a safe assumption if you are a viewer of the film, you shan’t be disappointed with the renditions of most of his greatest hits in the film. The cast is brilliant with their singing, treating the songs like the true art they are, often incorporating elements of fantasy into the choreography that accompanies the lyrics. And to the film’s merit, the songs are actively used as plot devices to facilitate character development, a technique that can often be difficult to effectively execute. The entirety of the productions of “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)”, “Your Song”, and “Yellow Brick Road” are personal favorites of mine, as they display the heights of heart and passion within Elton.
Lead actor Taron Egerton deserves an immense amount of praise for his performance in this role. He fully encapsulates every aspect of Elton, including his display of exceptional vocal talents and energetic, rhythmic dance moves. On the more personal angles of Elton’s life, Egerton totally espouses the pain and rage of the loneliness he endured, whether it be due to him coming to grips with his sexuality or the void left by the cold-heartedness of his mother and abandonment by his father, as well as the hedonistic lifestyle Elton embraced as a coping mechanism throughout much of his life. This role was exceptionally demanding and accompanied with sky-high expectations, and Egerton was spectacular.
I believe it needs to be addressed that, whether it is fair or not, “Rocketman” likely cannot outrun the comparisons to last year’s 4-time Oscar-winning (I know, it is an absolute abomination) “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Both are biographical films about musical legends who once lived as closeted homosexuals, struggled with substances, and have over-the-top flamboyant personalities. It is a large shadow to attempt to walk out from under, and “Rocketman” does make a few attempts to differentiate itself, mostly by relying on Elton’s music to help facilitate the story with ethereal musical numbers in conjunction with elaborate large-scale dances, instead of simply documenting specific stage performances. However, the stories bear a remarkable similarity, that despite “Rocketman” being about a wholly different individual, there is an inescapable familiarity that comes across as mildly hackneyed. It is no fault of the filmmakers that two separate real-life figures had journeys akin to another, but seeing as though there are already plenty of artistic liberties taken with the facts, I find it disappointing that they seemed to chose to emphasize the same points of their treks of self-discovery and growth, particularly the aspects of both of them having a heartless, manipulative and abusive agent/manager who is also their lover and brings out the worst in their respective focal character.
Despite its flaws, “Rocketman” is wholly enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining. I have little doubt that this movie will be exceptionally popular amongst general audiences and Elton John fans alike.
I would give “Rocketman” a fanciful 8.0 out of 10
Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jaime Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor
Runtime: 2 Hours and 1 Minute