Rocketman - 2019
Director(s): Dexter Fletcher
Writer(s): Lee Hall
Cinematography by: George Richmond
Editor(s): Chris Dickens
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Matthew Illesley, and Kit Connor
Musical biopics are a favorite genre for general audiences; you do not have to look further than last year's Bohemian Rhapsody's box office - along with all the golden trophies it took home - to know that statement to be true. Another fact about the genre is that no matter the subject it is depicting, they all follow a stringent structure and story beats that it is borderline comical how predictable they are (see Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story if you want the perfect parody of this genre). However, it is a genre that is not going away; fourteen new projects are currently in the works (from Elvis to Aretha Franklin), so let us hope that Rocketman is a sign of things to come. A film that while it adheres to the tired structure, it dares to meld fantasy and musical elements to it, creating a fun and mesmerizing experience.
The story depicts the rise to fame of English singer, songwriter, pianist, and compose, Sir Elton Hercules John (Egerton) - as told by him during a stint in rehab. Beginning in 1950's England when Elton was going by his birth name, Reginald Dwight, and we see his family life - cold mother and distant father - and his natural musical talent at the piano grow thanks to the love and encouragement of his grandmother. From there, we see him grows up with the piano keys always under his fingers, and he goes from pianist backup player to changing his name to Elton with hopes of becoming the next big-name Rockstar. Later Elton teams up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Bell), and after being told no by the record label multiple times - they blow their socks off with "Your Song" and get a tour in America. And booze, drugs, sex and the overwhelming nature of the Rockstar lifestyle takes over, alienating Elton from love and happiness - making him rethink what matters to him and how he wants to live his life.
Yes - Lee Hall's screenplay falls on the traps of the genre (the rise to fame, loss of friends, bottoming out due to drugs, and coming back more prominent than ever / closing out with a photo montage to explain what happened to the real artist in the end), but I loved the fantasy elements injected in the structure. They were not afraid to meld reality with over the top fantasy that fits the persona Elton built throughout his career. On top of that, you are quickly made aware that music is essential, as it should, to the story and it goes in and out of musical performances outside the concert stage, with bombastic dance sequences that push the story forward and come as an adrenaline shot for those bored by the generic moments in between. I liked the story element of Elton talking to the support group, and how he started the meeting dressed in his on stage person (devil horns, wings, and high-platform shoes) and as the story progresses, he sheds them - as the walls come down and he accepts the pain he has been carrying all his life.
Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle), along with cinematographer George Richmond, does a fantastic job at injecting energy to the camera movement and shot composition, delivering many moments that you stare in amazement at the colors and images on the screen. The editing helps the story feel like a whirlwind, going from one sequence to another without blinking an eye - driving home the madness of Elton's life during that time. I think it kind of sucks that Bohemian Rhapsody came out last year, and it won so many awards because this film will probably not win any for the sake of variety (or the perception of it), especially Taron Egerton's performance. There was not a single second that I did not see him as Elton - it helps that he is not lip singing - his downward spiral never feels over the top, and you can see the pain behind his eyes whenever he deals with his parents. Jamie Bell, as Bernie (Elton's songwriter), was great, as their chemistry sold their friendship and love. And Bryce Dallas Howard as the cold and distant mother of Elton is perfect casting as she can play the villain that thinks she is a victim in her sleep.
Rocketman is a step in the right direction, even if it still defaults to stale and predictable story beats of its genre. Fletcher and Hall know that its subject matter, Elton John, is revered as an over the top musical legend by millions, and he deserves to live in a heightened story that embraces the music, style, and persona of Elton. Egerton is fantastic, and this will probably go down as his career-defining performance, and many will walk away impressed by his vocal talent. I am not a huge fan of Elton, and I still was entertained and invested by his story - so this film is not only for fans of the musician. Give it a shot.
Rocketman is a Glass Half Full.
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