The musical biopic has been one of the most noticeably formulaic genres of film, so much so that many of them have still been the same even after Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story lampooned all the clichés of their narrative structures. Despite the backlash that this genre has received over the years, it has still proven to be successful amongst audiences. So, world famous musician Elton John is the next artist to get the film treatment. Though this could have resulted in yet another tired rehash, Rocketman is not only entertaining and compelling, but also ambitious.
Rocketman covers Elton John AKA Reginald Dwight (Taron Egerton), and his life from childhood to his 40’s, framing it through an AA meeting. Throughout his recollections, his relationships with best friend Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and manager/love interest John Reid (Richard Madden) are explored, as well as his rise to fame as a songwriter and a substance abuser.
Given how Dexter Fletcher worked on Bohemian Rhapsody’s post-production and the inherent similarities both films share, it would be wise to get comparisons out of the way now. Whilst both films feature similar narrative arcs, Rocketman is far more effective because of its central stylistic approach of not only being a musical, but also being reliant on fantasy sequences to tell the story. It also manages to focus on the central protagonist’s homosexuality in a manner that does not feel like it is shaming them whilst still portraying the difficulties of being gay in that time period.
The film is at it’s weakest when it is just retelling Elton’s life. During these portions, most of the central events feel breezed through, not really being given the time that they deserve. Whilst the frame narrative does justify this approach, more scenes could have been used to develop certain story elements. For example, Elton has a girlfriend who is barely established and removed from the story within 2 minutes.
But it is at its strongest when it is blending the fantasy with reality. The musical numbers and fantasy sequences are all perfectly integrated into the story. Dramatically-speaking, there are a lot of powerful moments, but the third act’s divulgence into Elton’s problems is the high point overall. The best individual numbers are the interpretations of “Rocketman” and “Tiny Dancer”, with are both being genuinely incorporated into their onscreen moments
In the lead role, Taron Egerton does a superb job in both the singing and the acting categories. You buy him as Elton John and his emotional scenes are incredibly compelling. It’s his best performance to date. Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard are also great in their supporting roles, with Howard’s accent being spotless, Bell being very likeable and Madden being a sexually aggressive presence.
Dexter Fletcher has made his most ambitious film to date. The direction is simply fantastic, as the lighting, cinematography and editing are all energetic and stylistic. Though the presentation feels a bit jarring at first, it soon becomes engaging, especially because of the lack of filler. Every scene feels tightly edited and important, making Rocketman an entertaining experience with there being (excuse the cliché) never a dull moment.
Rocketman is a successful interpretation of Elton John’s life as well as a good musical on its own. Whilst not exactly a reinvention of the musical biopic, it is by far one of the best ones and proof that it can still work under the right hands.