Like any jet fulled engine, Rocketman propels itself to be perhaps one of the most entertaining films of the year. Opening to a boom of yellow light, arguably as bright as the protagonist itself, Rocketman exerts itself as a true biopic of rock and roll. Yet, under the glitz and glamour, it is shows a serious portrayal of the downside to fame.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, written by Lee Hall and overlooked by Elton John himself, you can’t help wonder if this film sets itself up as a slight sob story for the rock star. The film opens to Elton (Taron Egerton) Zooming down a hall way in a devilish devils costume and bursting through the main doors of an rehab facility, only to be greeted by a seemingly un-bothered audience. This is how the film opens, and not three minutes into it, we receive the first song of the film. While I love the music of Elton John, I’ll admit it surprised me to see a song so early on. The setting of an AA meeting is present for the length of the film, using it as a sort of link back to, which helps aid the story on into different eras.
One thing that Rocketman gets so perfectly right is the songs that are routinely performed, embedded in the film. This almost theatrical style production sees classics such as ‘Crocodile Rock’ and ‘Honky Cat’ transfer from a dingy stage, into a flashing parade of audience satisfaction as we see these songs we know and love, be turned into a film with a message: it’s okay to be different.
This is a message currently spreading itself around cinema, with Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) that Fletcher came in to finish amidst a profound problem with director Bryan Singer, and further with a Star is Born (2018) symbolic of our ever changing planet. Yet a biopic about Elton John would not be right unless it featured his homosexuality. Heading into the cinema, this was my main objective. Will the touch on it like it did in Bohemian Rhapsody or will they declare it? Well they declared it. It is clear that Elton John had a turbulent time in the early stage of his career. The film focuses on his drug, alcoholism and sex addiction in relation to his music, his personal life comes directly into it when manager John Reid (Richard Madden) takes personal and sexual advantage of him.
Rocketman also proudly holds the title of the first Hollywood feature film in cinematic history to show a full gay sex scene between two men, as made by a major film studio. Which in all honestly all I can say for that is how has it taken till 2019 for that to happen? The sheer creativity of these story lines mixed in with the music makes the film electric. Throw in an uncaring mother Shelia (Bryce Dallas Howard) a loving grandma (Gemma Jones) and a partnered songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and you have the recipe for an honest biopic.
That is my issue with it, perhaps it is too honest. I am all for Elton John not being ashamed about his reason for sobriety, purely because no one should ever be ashamed of their mental health, yet moments in this film seemed liked the audience were expected to pity Elton for his mistakes. I would have liked to see a bigger presence of his somewhat better times, such as his 12 studio albums released in the decade of the 70’s. He was portrayed as a broken man by the end of the decade, but he also did some incredible stuff in it and I feel like that was largely missed out to make way for the more serious content.
I have to quickly touch on the costumes, of which they deserve a film on their own. They are as loud as the star that wears them and I love that. From a dressing gown that Elton sinks to the bottom of a pool in, to an Elizabethan styled dress and a glistering baseball costume that Elton wore at the Dodger stadium in 1975. The costumes in Rocketman illustrate the eccentric power of a showman. This is only progressed by the CGI of Egerton rocketing up into the sky while singing ‘Rocketman’ and the audience floating up towards the ceiling when ‘Crocodile Rock’ blasts out of a piano. I’ll admit, I wasn’t that impressed with these almost tacky additions, but I can see the value they added to the film.
I have no doubt that Taron Egerton will be Oscar nominated for his performance, he was out of this world. I’d even stretch it to say that Jamie Bell will be nominated for best supporting actor as the songwriter Bernie Taupin, he bought life to the lyrics of these well known songs. There was a strong sense of friendship between these two, however at crucial times Taupin would bow out of the picture to give Elton some space. The finale of Rocketman revisits every character in the centre of the AA room for Elton to ‘battle’ in his mind. A convincing act of defense to his inner demons, Elton manages to pull his life back into his own hands, finishing the film on a confident note of self assurance to the words of ‘I’m still standing’, and he is.
Bell & Egerton as Elton and Taupin – Picture property of Paramount/NewRepublic