THE FILM CLUB REVIEWS ROCKETMAN
How do you do justice to a film telling the life of not only one of Britain’s, but also the entire world’s, most enigmatic, flamboyant, self-indulgent and yet remarkably talented musical geniuses, especially when that film follows hot on the heels of commercial and critical musical smash-hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born?
You chuck both of those films into a pot (or more aptly a cocktail shaker), add a splash or two of The Greatest Showman’s exuberance, squeeze in a few drops of the heart-string tugging underdog story of Eddie the Eagle, give it a good old shake and voila, you have a wildly entertaining snapshot into the struggles, triumphs and whimsical fantasies of the one and only Reginald Dwight, or better known to you and I as Sir Elton Hercules John.
Rocketman tells the story of little ‘Reggie’, whose musical ability is spotted at a very young age, and despite an uncaring mum and an ice-cold disciplinarian of a dad, prospers to become a talented young musician simply trying to find his place in the world. Everything changes when he is encouraged to ‘kill the person he was born to be in order to become the person he wants to be’, thus shedding the name of Reginald Dwight, and like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, becomes Elton John, stealing his first name from another band member, and his surname from a legendary Beatle. A musical connection with lyricist Bernie Taupin leads Elton to his first contract, and in a flurry of literal sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, a megastar is born. Only, the road to stardom is a very bumpy one.
Taron Egerton is an absolute revelation as the boy from the outskirts of Watford who went on to conquer the world. He manages to pull off an amazing feat throughout the film of being both consistently funny and tragic at the same time, all the while dressed in an array of increasingly outrageous outfits; one heart-breaking scene has him reel off Sir Elton’s laundry list of addictions in a rehab therapy session whilst dressed as a spangly orange demon complete with giant feathered wings. Aside from the outfits, he never places too much emphasis on trying to straight up imitate the titular Rocketman, thus leaving him free to convey the many emotions needed to cover what was a turbulent introduction into the world of musical superstardom. Oh, and he also sings all of the songs himself. Following Rami Malek’s Oscar glory for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury, surely all eyes will be on Egerton come next year’s awards season.
The remainder of the cast never really have their moment to outshine the main attraction, and you imagine that this is very much how it was in real life too. Jamie Bell does a very good job as the far more reserved Bernie Taupin, the man who forged a brotherly bond with John as his musical partner, penning the lyrics to the majority of his many hit songs. Richard Madden is the pantomime villain of the piece as Sir Elton’s manager/love interest John Reid, a man who not only guides the musician into the stratosphere of fame and fortune, but then also helps to show him how to spend it to excess. The remainder of the cast include Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mum Sheila, far too caught up in the failings of her own life to ever provide anything above the most basic of support to a young son crying out for guidance; his dad, played by Steven Mackintosh, is even worse. On numerous occasions we see a young Elton beg him for nothing more than a hug before swiftly being told to stop being so soft. It’s left to Elton’s nan (Gemma Jones) to be his true beacon of support. Something as simple as providing a bus fare helping him to take those first precarious steps to becoming the man he was destined to be.
Dexter Fletcher, he of Press Gang and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame, continues his fine directorial form here. Quickly becoming the go-to-guy for biopics following the excellently quirky Eddie the Eagle (also starring Taron Egerton) and stepping in to complete last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody once Bryan Singer had been removed from the production, Fletcher has allowed creative flair to prevail, brilliantly weaving Elton John’s music into the story itself, creating more of a musical fantasy than a straight up biopic. Songs are just as likely to break out in the middle of the street as they are on stage, and the lyrics are used to perfectly encapsulate the feelings, both euphoric and melancholy, in writer Lee Hall’s script.
Very few films are without flaws, and this is certainly not one of them. It does pander somewhat to its star character, but then again, why wouldn’t it? Sometimes it does also come close to glamourising the substance abuse, before something as simple as a faked smile makes you realise the pain it is causing inside, both physically and mentally. Some of the characterisations have caused controversy too, especially that of John Reid, whose working relationship with Elton John continued on for far longer than the film depicts and paints the man in a particularly unpleasant light, dismissed by many who actually knew him as being false.
Factual liberties aside however, Rocketman is a fantastic addition to the latest slate of musical films to hit the cinema, and easily one of the must-see films of the year so far. Taking you on a complete emotional roller coaster as you become a fly on the wall of a revered enigma, it will at times break your heart, have you grinning from ear to ear, and leave you wanting to punch the air with joy, before getting home, fishing out the platforms and feather boa, and bouncing around your living room belting out I’m Still Standing. Or was that just me?
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