“Rocketman” is slightly different than your average rock star biopic. Yes, it’s chock full of songs, the highs (literally) and lows of being a superstar, the rise to stardom and the inevitable crash that’s followed by the rise from the ashes. You know the drill.
But Dexter Fletcher’s film about the great piano man is the only recent picture of its type – at least, in the past few years – that plays as a jukebox musical. In other words, characters break out into song as if they’re in an actual musical – and John’s music is performed out of sequence for the time when it was released, but it makes sense thematically in telling his story – and not just in a recording studio or on a stage as they would in, say, “Bohemian Rhapsody” or other films of its type.
Taron Egerton gives a pretty fantastic performance. His previous work in the “Kingsman” films, of which I’m not particularly a fan, would never have led me to believe he could pull off such a role as this one. But he’s great – plus, he apparently sang the songs in the film – and convincingly.
John’s story isn’t wildly divergent from the typical rock star bio movie. He had a gloomy upbringing, courtesy of two emotionally cold parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh), but learned at an early age that he has a talent for the piano. A particularly amusing introduction to this talent occurs when young Elton – born Reginald Dwight – takes his first conservatory music lesson and mimics his teacher playing piano with just one listen.
The most intriguing element of the film is Elton’s friendship with Bernie Taupin, his longtime collaborator. In the film, Taupin is played by Jaime Bell, who gives the songwriter an empathetic portrayal – which might seem the more so due to the fact that everyone else in John’s life, from his parents to his sinister manager, is seemingly awful.
There are more than a few colorful musical numbers – including “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Tiny Dancer” – that act as commentary on John’s actual life, and the film is less shy in portraying its singer’s sexual preference than “Bohemian Rhapsody” was. The film’s weakest point is that it follows – almost by the book – the beats of every other music biopic, colorful musical numbers notwithstanding. There’s only so much one can do with a real person’s life when portraying it on film, but I feel as if I’ve seen more rise-to-fame, drug abuse and rehab scenes than I can count.
But “Rocketman” is a fun – if not always wildly original – movie. Egerton’s performance is the main draw, but it also helps that Elton John has such a vast catalogue of great music. It says something about his iconic status that the film is filled with wall-to-wall music, but only about one-third of his best songs are included here. This is a fun and rousing musical.