Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden
Goodbye yellow brick road, hello Hollywood.
It’s hard to imagine pop culture without Elton John, but luckily we don’t have to. Taron Egerton dons numerous outrageous spectacles and sits at the piano to portray the singer-songwriter-showman in this extremely entertaining musical biopic. You’d have to be living under a crocodile rock not to know some of these songs, but even if you don’t, the film’s exuberance will get you cheering.
Dexter Fletcher, the uncredited co-director on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is at the helm here, but despite “Rocketman” being about another gay British rocker (with the same manager, oddly) this superior film is quite different from the recent award winner. It plays much more like a Broadway musical, using Elton’s entry into a 12-step program as a way to reflect on his history through a somewhat exaggerated lens.
This may cause some strict fans to wince. No, Elton was not singing the 1983 hit “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” in 1969 but, then again, he wasn’t breaking into song with his mother and grandmother in their small Pinner row house, either.
As “Rocketman” is coproduced by Elton himself, it definitely has an interest in making him come off like a hero, even when he is at rock bottom from drugs, booze, shopping sprees and infidelities. His father was a louse and his mother wasn’t too supportive either. Being gay was a painful secret and his relationship with his manager (John Reid, played by Richard Madden) was emotionally abusive.
The one constant was his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), whose lyrics are presented here as thinly veiled messages of understanding from one friend to another. The first time you see them truly connect, with the near spontaneous generation of “Your Song,” is one of those great goose-pimply movie moments, even if it is a bit far-fetched.
The film works best when it keeps the music front-and-center. “The Bitch Is Back,” “Honky Cat” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” lend themselves well in splashy sequences with bold camera moves and razzle-dazzle sets. “Take Me to the Pilot” puts a hallelujah spin on a tasteful-but-frank love scene of the sort a mainstream Hollywood movie wouldn’t dare just five years ago. Egerton, with the crutch of Elton’s flamboyant costumes, disappears into the role. He’s spectacular.
“Rocketman” doesn’t reinvent the musical biopic wheel, but more than successfully clears the tower.