Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Maddern Gemma Jones
Directed By Dexter Fletcher
Runs 120 Minutes
Rocketman is a music biopic I have been waiting to see for quite a while and it didn’t let me down.
It is an intriguing look at the life and times of Elton John. But director Dexter Fletcher has found a fresh and often weird new way to present a familiar blueprint.
We’ve all seen the movie where a singer and piano man finds fame and fortune before descending into drink-and-drugs hell. But have we ever seen a musical film with a song performed entirely underwater; or a song that causes an entire room of people to inexplicably levitate.
“Rocketman” is brimming with this kind of invention, each song (all absolute classics, of course) spiced with eye-popping visual and emotional embellishments, all deftly placed to tell the story of how a tubby kid from Middlesex called Reggie Dwight could ever go on to sell 300 million records. The frequent fantasy flourishes won’t be for everyone, but it feels right that a larger-than-life character earns larger-than-life treatment.
It covers a lot of Elton’s life from early childhood to middle-aged rehab – and so has to race through some special moments in his life. But it’s ok as his music does most of the main work although we do see his ill-fated marriage to Renate Blauel (played by Celinde Schoenmaker), in an attempt to understand why a lonely man might turn to a marriage he didn’t want.
We can fill in the blanks. It’s a story told by feeling and rhythm as much as dialogue. That’s important, given we’re talking about Elton John.
As supremely talented as he is operatically obnoxious, this is a man whose daddy issues also come served with a side of mummy issues. (Sporting a good Home Counties accent, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Sheila is the film’s only major female character.)
Dogged by insecurities, resentfulness and self-loathing, it’s a character that could feel one-note, but in Taron Egerton’s rich, committed performance we get texture: the genius and the diva wrestling with each other, Elton forever trying to make peace with his inner Reggie. Egerton summons John’s slightly pompous cadence but again, it’s less an impersonation than a feeling that comes through, and he’s brilliant, an electrifying presence. Helpfully, he can really sing, too. Unlike the recent Queen movie, “Rocketman” is surprisingly open about Elton being gay and the many men in his private life including his relationship with manager and lover John Reid ( Richard Madden).
The movie also doesn’t evade Elton’s hedonistic lifestyle in bold, R-rated hues. But even in Elton’s darker dalliances with addictions, the director challenges the idea that depressing topics need to be presented in a somewhat depressing way. Making sure we are offered a big serve of effervescence and warmth wherever possible.
In fact, some of the film’s best scenes come from the authentic, down-to-earth friendship Elton shares with his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell in a gentle, generous performance). It’s far-fetched, and fantastical, yes, but Fletcher still finds room for the humanity. “Rocketman” is a sequin-encrusted delight.
Score of 8.5 out of 10