“Rocketman” dispels with the notion that musical biopics have nothing new to offer. It could have easily been more in the vein of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Indeed, the film was marketed in the same fashion. However, it turns out that “Rocketman” is far more fresh than its predecessor, and offers uniqueness and entertainment value equivalent to the man it is about.
Walking in, I thought I knew what to expect. I had assumed that “Rocketman” would be another A to Z drama with all the procedural notes typical of a musical biopic: drugs, alcohol, sex, and the highs and lows of an individual’s life when they are mega-famous. No doubt there would be quality performances, reenactments of historic concerts, and a musical score to drool over. Personally, I wouldn’t have been totally disappointed had the film been more traditional. I was already interested to learn more about Elton John, as I am a huge fan of his music but had little knowledge of the man himself. “Rocketman” hits all the notes, but not in chromatic fashion, and throws in a plethora of cadenzas throughout its riveting runtime.
What separates “Rocketman” from other films in its genre is its fantastical approach to its storytelling. Characters break out into song frequently, giving the film energy and a lively aspect unmatched by other biopics. What’s more impressive is how the musical numbers don’t just help carry forth the narrative with energy, they also give insight into what our characters are feeling at the moment. They are uniquely timed, not just at concerts or rehearsals, and feature genius choreography. “Rocketman” does what I have wanted musical biopics to do for some time – it uses its artists’ songs to tell their own story, rather than dictating the story and songs to us.
“Rocketman” could easily be categorized as a musical rather than a drama, but given its subject matter I would keep it in the latter. It is absolutely a musical fantasy, as I suspect Elton saw his own life as at times during his career. Taron Egerton gives a superb performance, certainly the best I have seen all year. Around the halfway mark, I no longer saw Taron in the role, and only saw Elton. What’s even more impressive is how all the songs feature Taron’s own voice. The man can sing – with his own unique tone. Impressively, the style of singing is clearly Elton, but the tone is that of Taron. It’s phenomenal. Hopefully the Oscars don’t forget about him come 8 months from now.
All of the performances in “Rocketman” are first class. Jamie Bell turns in a wonderfully heartfelt performance as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s longtime lyricist. At one point, it’s said that he and Elton have never had a fight. Although there’s definitely some heated moments between the two, their friendship is clearly one for the ages. Richard Madden is great as the cold and detached producer, John Reid. There’s a bit of controversy regarding how Reid is portrayed, but every hero needs a villain, and the heartless studio-man fits in nicely. The film doesn’t shy away from Elton’s sexuality either, featuring a full-length romantic scene between the singer and his manager. I’m glad that “Rocketman” didn’t just disregard perhaps the most important aspect of Elton’s life, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” did with Freddie Mercury. Much of Elton’s struggles with drugs, alcohol, and depression stemmed from his personal relationships, with lovers and his own family. It’s well known that Elton had a pretty toxic relationship with his parents, as they never supported him in his career or personal life. These issues are front and center in “Rocketman.”
Now, despite its fantastical approach and gripping performances, there’s no denying that “Rocketman” has those cliché biopic moments. The story arc is tired at this point, and the lesson is always the same. It also completely throws any sort of timeline out the window when it comes to Elton’s songs. Yes, the musical numbers are a welcomed aspect that fit moments in the film perfectly, but they are also completely out of order, and give the impression that Elton composed certain songs at vastly different moments in his life than he actually did. It makes me feel conflicted about how those songs may take on a different meaning, but since Elton is listed as producer, I’m assuming he had at least some say in this.
It’s difficult to tell such a dense story cohesively, with music, in just two hours. The montage form works brilliantly well, and I especially like how the film is told from Elton’s perspective when he is in rehab. It gave the story a particularly personal note, and a sense of reflection that usually doesn’t exist in these types of films. My only real gripe is that “Candle in the Wind” isn’t featured.