Directed by:Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Lee Hall
I’m always hesitant to review biopics; it just feels weird to critique a story about someone who actually exists, and it’s tricky to talk about the writing, because who am I to say if something seems rushed or melodramatic if it actually happened that way? Fortunately, this movie still gives me a lot to talk about.
Rocketman chronicles the life of iconic musician Elton John (Taron Egerton), from his childhood with a self-absorbed mother and emotionally distant father (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) to his meteoric rise to fame after teaming up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and his following struggles with substance abuse and depression, feeling cripplingly lonely despite being adored by fans all over the world.
While story-wise this is a straightforward biopic, it’s also a jukebox musical, incorporating several of Elton John’s more well-known songs into non-diegetic numbers used for exposition and scene transitions. It’s a creative use of the music, and I love that it’s used in a different context than just scenes of Elton writing or performing within the narrative. But the pacing is a little weird; there are a few musical numbers at the very beginning, but then there’s a long stretch without one, and the few that come after that are inconsistent. It’s a great storytelling method in theory, and the musical numbers don’t dull the darker aspects of Elton’s life; the titular song “Rocketman” is performed during a heartbreaking suicide attempt, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” sung by Bernie Taupin after following an argument with a drug-and-booze-addled Elton John, nearly made me cry. I just wish the filmmakers had committed to the style a little more.
Besides that, though, I don’t really have anything else to complain about. The cast is spectacular; Taron Egerton is perfect as Elton John, both dramatically and musically (Egerton does his own singing in the film). Jamie Bell is wonderful as Bernie Taupin, and he and Egerton have excellent chemistry. Richard Madden is amazing as the suave but slimy John Reid, Elton John’s abusive manager and ex-boyfriend. After only seeing Madden play the noble Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, I was impressed to see him pull off a much more villainous role.
Obviously, I can’t talk about an Elton John biopic without addressing the costumes, which are just as spectacular as the music and the acting. Besides being beautiful and elaborate and wonderfully glittery, they play as much of a role in the storytelling as the music does; the movie begins with Elton bursting into a drab, gray room for a substance abuse group therapy meeting wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, matching bedazzled demon horns and enormous wings, and heart-shaped rhinestone sunglasses. As the scenes alternate between him in the group therapy setting and flashbacks of his life and career, he gradually strips the costume away.
Even if you’re not a hardcore Elton John fan (which I’m not; I spent most of my childhood thinking of him as “the guy who wrote the Lion King songs”), I would absolutely recommend checking out Rocketman. It’s a fascinating look at a musical idol’s background with an incredible cast and memorable music. It’s definitely a movie I plan on watching again.
Have you seen ROCKETMAN? Well, what did you think?