Rocketman | Dexter Fletcher | May 31, 2019
Elton John is the sort of living legend who is known for his larger-than-life presence not only on the stage but throughout his life. So it’s fitting that his highly anticipated music biopic Rocketman plays its hand as a much more than the standard by-the-numbers biopic, but rather something in-between an Across The Universe-style musical with all the expected ticks of a through-the-years biopic.
It’s fitting that Rocketman is in the hands of director Dexter Fletcher, who went uncredited for taking the reins on last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody after disgraced director Bryan Singer left the film. He gets all the credit in the world here for the creative and dreamlike fantasy feeling that he brings to Rocketman, giving it a sort of extra glimmer and pep in its step that allows it to stand above the expectations that naturally come with a music biopic.
Starting with a fantasy-like image of Elton John (Taron Egerton) entering a rehab clinic still dressed in his fancy stage getup, the dream-like editing and blending of fantasy and reality with John’s music clears the air and makes it perfectly clear that Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall are working out of a playbook of their own. Instead of using songs in sequence as they’re chronologically recorded, all of Elton’s greatest hits arrive when it’s best appropriate to integrate them into the story and are delivered in both the expected standard performance style (say “Crocodile Rock” during his legendary U.S. breakthrough shows at the Troubadour in Los Angeles), as well as a more flamboyant and bombastic musical style with the songs taking a new interpretation of their own.
This may work to differing effect based on the viewer’s expectations, but it was a refreshing take on this genre and it seemed to really fit the mold for an artist such as John. That’s not to say that is totally avoids some of the pitfalls and expectations that come from biopics, as at times it does feel like Fletcher is going through a checklist of points to hit, but it certainly helps that he brings a little bit of something else to it with the fantasy elements to give it a bit of a unique take and feel.
Taron Egerton is absolutely extraordinary as Elton John, seamlessly becoming the man in a performance that doesn’t feel like an imitation but rather as if you are really seeing the rise and potential fall of the talented but troubled rock star. Jamie Bell is always great as John’s longtime songwriting partner, the quiet heart and soul of the film as he was the heart and soul in many ways during so much of the up and down nature of John’s life. Equally strong are the performances from Richard Madden as scummy manager John Reid and Bryce Dallas Howard as John’s mother, Sheila.
While Rocketman succumbs to some of the pitfalls of biopics, especially when seeing John struggle with substance abuse and seeing his life threaten to unravel, it rises to the occasion when it comes to finding new creative ways to integrate fantasy elements to so many moments that allow you to separate it from some of the lesser entries of the genre. Some creative editing and cinematography from George Richmond allow for some sequences to give you a sense that it ultimately rises to the occasion when it counts, thanks to an awards-worthy performance from Egerton who has proven himself to be one of our better young actors on the scene.