Can a biopic do justice to a living legend? That was the question on my mind as I walked into Rocketman. To answer that, let’s travel through space and time into a fantastical interpretation of a life, and the lessons it has to teach.
However, before we lift off, we first have to address the unavoidable. You know, the obvious comparison to Bohemian Rhapsody. Both films revolve heavily around the theme of loneliness and the need for love. Both have almost one-dimensional parental figures who really don’t factor into the story. Both indulge in the drugs, sex and excess that has come to define two legendary figures of rock & roll. So, it’s almost inevitable that the next question is: Will Taron Egerton garner an Oscar nomination like Rami Malek? Before I answer that, let’s talk about the movie a bit.
Rocketman opens with Taron Egerton in full Mephisto regalia walking into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. From this first moment, the film leans heavily into its theatrical nature. Do you expect anything less from a film about Elton John? In fact, there are moments throughout the film where the theatrics take over the cinematic execution – sometimes to its detriment. But mostly, it adds a valuable ingredient to the enjoyment of the film. Within seconds of the opening, we are in a musical number and into Elton’s childhood.
Instantly, we can appreciate the level of production design, art direction and costume design in this film. All categories that should pick up Oscar nominations. This is literally two minutes into the film. So yeah, do a mental clap for the department heads and crew in these categories because they truly deserve it.
A cautionary side note for those of you looking for strict story structure: This film doesn’t play within those imposed boundaries because such hindrances cannot justify the prolific nature of Elton John. And that’s one of the best choices made by Dexter Fletcher (whom I love from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).
Dexter now directs and to his credit, he outshines Bryan Singer’s attempt at capturing Freddie Mercury. From the first moments, Dexter is riffing on those directorial piano keys with a beautifully orchestrated subversion of expectations. He teams up with writer Lee Hall (who brought us the delightful Billy Elliott). The film tries to walk a fine line between doing justice to a British tone and American audience expectations. However, much like Elton’s own life, it falters at moments. Those occasional missteps (both on the page and on the screen) are easily overcome in the duo’s successful portrayal of poignant moments of the film. Fletcher’s use of directorial subtext makes the film truly satisfying. For example: There is the plane landing as Elton starts to come down from a high. My favorite is the moment when Taron Egerton gives an out-of-this-world performance as he comes out to his mother (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Director Fletcher frames Egerton inside a British telephone booth. As the frame gets tighter, you can almost feel the suffocating nature of the moment. Elton’s momentary marriage to Renate Blauel and almost instantaneous divorce is yet another such flash of brilliance (a scene influenced by the breakfast montage of Citizen Kane).
Which brings us to the main event – Taron Egerton’s performance. He truly blasts off in Rocketman. A performance so rich and colorful that it wows and captures the very soul of Elton John; a man we have all loved from afar. Throughout the film, Egerton is the shiny, sequined engine of joy that fuels the film. He delivers a performance so engaging that I don’t really care about any of the film’s shortcomings or stumbles. I am ready to be the President of his campaign for an Oscar nomination. Taron Egerton’s intelligence as an actor shines through as he must have lobbied for George Richmond to be the cinematographer. Richmond shot Egerton twice in the Kingsman movies. That familiarity in the team up certainly strengthens Egerton’s performance.
There’s also a delightful performance by Tate Donovan as Doug Weston, the famed owner of the Troubadour. For the brief moments he is on screen, he totally owns his character.
But no film reaches greatness without having something important to impart; a lesson that Bohemian Rhapsody forgot. Rocketman certainly does have something important to tell us beyond the celebration of sexual diversity and a fantasy-filled documentation of a rock god.
Full of lines such as: “Kill the person you’re born to be, to become the person you want to be,” the film’s ultimate message is the simplest. That “feeling resentful for the things that don’t matter” only holds us back. That there can be no hope for true love until we can learn to love our own selves. Don’t we all wish that we could hug the child within us? Don’t we all wish that we could be kinder to that kid? The final moments of the film enhanced by Taron Egerton’s performance and Dexter Fletcher’s directing will certainly choke you up. It will also make you rejoice in sheer pleasure at this brief encounter with Elton John.
Yes, you can do justice to the life of a living legend in a biopic.
This is a MUST SEE IN THE THEATERS film. Kindly report to your nearest rocket launch site.
Rocketman lands in theaters on May 29!
*Fun side note: Taron Egerton used one of Elton’s songs in his audition to get into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) to study acting.