Rocketman features a stunning, powerful star turn from Taron Egerton as Elton John in a sharp and entertaining jukebox musical-style biopic.
Coming off an awards season that featured a music biopic at the forefront, Bryan Singer's Bohemian Rhapsody, this spring sees the release of another movie chronicling the rise of an iconic musician. Rocketman dives into the childhood, rise and career of Reginald Dwight, who came to be known as Elton John. Aside from being a biopic, Rocketman shares another element with Bohemian Rhapsody in director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle), who stepped in to complete the Freddie Mercury film when Singer was fired (though he retained directing credit). Now Fletcher tackles the life and times of Elton John in his latest directorial effort. Rocketman features a stunning, powerful star turn from Taron Egerton as Elton John in a sharp and entertaining jukebox musical-style biopic.
Framed as a story being told by an adult Elton John (Egerton) in an alcoholics anonymous meeting, Rocketman takes viewers back to the musician's childhood days of learning the piano and discovering his love for music. Through his time as a member of a backup band to solo acts and his early work with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), Rocketman follows the musician's evolution from the shy Reginald Dwight to the ostentatious performer Elton John. However, while Elton's star rises, he struggles with accepting his sexuality despite his romantic relationship with his manager John Reid (Richard Madden), and has trouble dealing with his depression, relying on drugs and alcohol to cope. With plenty of musical numbers featuring Elton John's greatest hits, Rocketman paints an honest picture of the musician's life, both the incredible highs and tragic lows.
Directed by Fletcher from a script by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), Rocketman expertly balances the drama and flashy entertainment of a movie about one of music's most well-known and ostentatious performers. Framing the movie as a flashback is a smart move for Rocketman, allowing the film to flirt with reality and honesty in an interesting way. Elton's story in the meeting doesn't always line up with the events of his life, making him a somewhat dishonest narrator, but a more flawed and compelling character. Further, the framing device allows room for the movie's musical numbers, which are energetic and wonderfully directed by Fletcher. Rocketman puts Elton John's music on display as much as the performer himself, making for a jukebox musical that's entertaining as hell. Though the film labors at times under the strain of condensing a man's life into a two-hour movie, and the pacing suffers in certain points because of it, Rocketman is an altogether solid biopic and authentic look at Elton John's life.
Like any biopic, though, the responsibility of carrying off the movie rests on the shoulders of the lead. In this case, that's Egerton as Elton John. The actor disappears into the role so effectively, Egerton proves he's the only actor who could have pulled off portraying Elton John so authentically. Egerton is, of course, helped in his transformation by the makeup and costumes (and, truly, costume designer Julian Day goes above and beyond in recreating some of Elton's most iconic looks) in Rocketman, but the actor nails the specific quirks of Elton John so incredibly well, especially during Fletcher's many close-ups on the actor. Further, Egerton pulls off herculean task of singing all his musical numbers, somehow managing to pull off an admirable imitation of Elton John while making the role his own. While Rocketman is bolstered by great supporting turns from Bell, Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard and more, the movie truly shines because of Egerton's performance.
Ultimately, Rocketman honors Elton John's life with an excellent biopic, refusing to shy away from any aspect of the musician, portraying his sexuality, depression and flare for performing with equal honesty. Choosing the jukebox musical format for Rocketman and using Elton John's music to tell his life story makes the experience all the more authentic, even if it's not an exact recreation of events. The jukebox musical style also helps to smooth out some of the bumps that come from rushing through certain times in Elton John's life, turning them into musical numbers rather than simple montages. Egerton's performance together with Hall's script and Fletcher's directing work to make Rocketman the best musical biopic it can be, which is exceptional in its own right.
As such, Rocketman is a must-see for any Elton John fans, and it's also a solid viewing experience for casual fans of his music and musicals/biopics in general. To be sure, the soundtrack is phenomenal, with Egerton doing all the singing of the songs from the film (he also recorded a duet with John that plays during the credits). Rocketman will no doubt be compared to Bohemian Rhapsody in light of both movies following the careers of iconic queer musicians, but they're different enough to stand on their own. And fans who enjoyed the Queen film will no doubt want to check out the Elton John biopic. Altogether, Rocketman is an excellent jukebox musical biopic that honors Elton John, and features an Oscar-worthy star turn by Egerton. It's not to be missed, and will hopefully be a major player during the next awards season.
Rocketman is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 121 minutes long and rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.
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- Rocketman (2019) release date: May 31, 2019