Last year, Bohemian Rhapsody pioneered the grandiose of the musical biopic genre in Hollywood, with a huge build-up of excitement through various media campaigns and raking in a whopping $900 million at the box office. Ultimately the film polarised audiences and to many seemed like little more than a Queen singalong, but the stage was already set (excuse the pun) for the new leading Hollywood trend. Films on many different artists such as Amy Winehouse, David Bowie and The Beatles have gone into production, which begs the question as to whether producers are looking for an idle cash-grab or are really meaning to tell these musicians’ powerful stories. Rocketman very clearly aims for the latter, and does so to a dazzling degree.
Rocketman depicts the life and career of Elton John from his childhood through to sobriety, delving into his inner struggles and tribulations throughout the height of his fame. What makes the film so great is its rejection of the genre’s by-the-books storytelling, focusing less on the music itself and more on the harsh realities and effects of fame. This narrative is led brilliantly by Taron Egerton, who perfectly captures the two sides of Elton; his camp and flashy onstage persona, and the shy, subdued man behind the mask. This is further supported by Egerton’s very capable singing abilities, which allow him to convincingly capture Elton’s rock ‘n’ roll menace in the musical pieces. Such musical pieces are a work of visual joy. Director Dexter Fletcher embraces the nonsensical aspect of the musical genre, and takes a fantastical approach to the set pieces, which seemingly encapsulates the mind of Elton and the intensified version of the world that he lived in. The songs aren’t just shoehorned in for the sake of it, and whilst they do not take a chronological approach to the playlist, each song adds to the narrative of the surrounding scenes and helps depict the emotional situation of the characters. The rest of the film is shot and directed beautifully, remaining colourfully bold throughout, lending to the camp environment that Elton occupied, as well as many fast-moving shots that keep you on your toes. The supporting cast help to keep the film captivating, with great performances from the likes of Richard Madden as Elton’s manipulative manager, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s soothing yet unforgiving mother.
However, there is a particular point of reflection which does seem to hold the film back. There are many moments throughout which depict some of Elton’s closest acquaintances as tirelessly evil and lacking remorse, which at times seems unconvincing. The fact that Elton John himself is an executive producer on the film and worked closely with the cast and crew suggests leniency towards the empathy displayed for Elton, and less for the humanisation of other characters. This does not hugely detract from the story being told, but takes a little out of the narrative being sold on how hard done by Elton was by his inner circles.
Overall, Rocketman is not only a flamboyant joyride through the life and music of Elton John, but also a compelling tale into the isolating world of superstardom, captured in sometimes hard-to-watch scenes of complete isolation and desperation. A knockout performance by Egerton keeps the film on full throttle from start to finish, and the end product has charm, drama and excitement uncaptured in a musical since La La Land. As Elton sang, “I think it’s gonna be a long long time” until there’s another music biopic quite like this one.
Image Credit: David Appleby/Paramount