Elton John is the latest music icon to receive the biopic treatment in director Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman from Paramount Pictures. It’s clear from early on that the director and screenwriter, Lee Hall, didn’t intend to give the audience a standard music biopic. The film opens with a different, yet respectable, monologue from Elton John (Taron Egerton) as he is entering rehab. This opening monologue details Elton John’s vices of choice. I consider myself a casual Elton John fan, so I had no idea he was an addict.
One of the opening musical numbers introduces us to young Reggie Dwight (Matthew Illesley) who later becomes Elton John. Reggie has a heartbreaking home life which includes a mother who doesn’t pay him any attention and an absentee father. Eventually, Reggie discovers his natural talent of playing music by ear. He sets out to become a singer/songwriter. Along the way, Elton meets numerous music legends who become key factors in his journey to success. They include his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and his manger, and eventual boyfriend, John Reid (Richard Madden).
Similar to other high-scale music biopics, Rocketman succeeds from the strength of Taron Egerton as Elton. From the moment Egerton utters his first line of dialogue, I was sold on his performance. Egerton does his own singing, which allows him to give his own take on Elton John during the music numbers. The musical director could’ve gone the safe route by having Egerton lip-sync, but, personally, I feel that would’ve taken away from the performance.
I must also give credit to George Richmond’s cinematography because the film is quite beautiful to look at. There are moments when Elton is performing a song and the effect plays out with what’s going on in the scene. The musical numbers have more of a high-scale Broadway play feeling as opposed to a traditional Hollywood film, which I’ll admit was a distraction during some moments. However, it appears that the director, screenwriter, and Elton John wanted to show that Elton saw music, as well as the world, on a grand scale. The non-linear storytelling Rocketman provides won’t be for everyone. I, for one, enjoyed it.
Unlike last year’s big music biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman doesn’t shy away from it’s subject’s sexual orientation. Rocketman pushes its R-rating pretty far for Hollywood, so parents thinking of taking their children should be prepared. While Rocketman shines for the most part, the film does fall into the trap of most music biopics. From youth to adulthood, we see the highs and lows of Elton John’s life, his pitfalls with addiction, and finally, his redemption. I would’ve liked it if the film went a bit deeper into Elton’s childhood or maybe provided us with a surprise cameo from another music icon.
Given Elton John’s vast catalog, there were going to be some song omissons. To my surprise, “Candle In The Wind” appears nowhere in the film and there were moments where the song would’ve fit perfectly. There are also moments that never fully develop, such as Elton’s relationship with John Reid, but given the route the filmmaking team was going for, I can understand why the omitted this.
The genre of the musical biopic, is one of my favorite film genres. Even if I know the bullet points of the subject’s life, it’s always refreshing to learn more about them. I recommended Rocketman to both the casual and fanatic followers of Elton John’s, as the film is an imaginative tribute to a music icon.
Rocketman opened in theaters on Friday May, 31st.
Final Grade: B+