A musical that looks at the breakthrough years of Elton John.
We’re entering an age where there will be an influx in classic rock biopics, and for someone like me, who listens to more FAR classic rock than modern music, I say bring it on! The music industry in the 60s, 70s, and 80s fascinates me; the world those people lived in was loud and fast and filled with exotic, creative energy. I would eagerly line up to see biopics for David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, the guys from Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd… you get the point.
Classic rock is, well, classic. There’s a definite audience there. I can’t remember whom, but someone recently said to me, “Who would see a movie about Elton John?” and I laughed. “You mean who would want to see a movie about the fourth best selling artist in the world? Gee, I wonder…” Just within the last couple of years, we’ve gotten “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “The Dirt”, “Get on Up”, and this (not counting the dozens of rock documentaries released on HBO and Netflix). I predict this is just the cusp; in fact, after a quick Google, it looks as if we’ve got biopics in the work for Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, Madonna, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. And still, I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I look forward to them. Some will be horrendous, most will be middling, and a few, hopefully, are destined to become classics.
I won’t tout “Rocketman” as a classic, but I do think it does a lot of things right.
“Real love’s hard to come by, so you find a way to cope without it.”
“Rocketman” tells the story of Reggie Dwight AKA Elton John from the time he was a young boy (played by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor, “Ready Player One”) playing the pubs in Pinner, Middlesex with encouragement from his Mum Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”). As Elton makes his way through the music business, he runs into songwriter and future collaborator Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, “King Kong (2005)”) and whom will be his future lover and manager John Reid (Richard Madden, forthcoming “1917”), and he also struggles to maintain his sobriety while he copes with his newfound fame.
Where “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a musical rock biopic for people who like rock concerts, “Rocketman” is a musical rock biopic for people who like musicals. Both have their flaws, but both, in the end, are remarkably entertaining. If I’m being honest, I think I preferred “Rocketman” to “Bohemian” if only because “Rocketman” was more inventive with its directing and storytelling and more honest about its central character’s inner conflicts, but I also think that Rami Malek gave a better performance as Freddie Mercury than Taron Edgerton (“Robin Hood (2018)”) did as Elton John.
What makes “Rocketman” special is the way it’s told. This film feels like a fantastical dream where one moment were in a dreary apartment and the next we go through a door and we’re walking with Elton to perform on stage. There are choreographed dance sequences that include whole choruses of people, elaborate sets and costume changes that happen before our very eyes, and dozens of unique set pieces that make only brief appearances. This movie looks like a TON of work went into it, from replicating the designs of Elton’s flamboyant wardrobe, to emulating the chaos he feels inside his mind, this movie does a ton to bring the flair of Elton to screen. Elton is eccentric if he’s nothing else, of course I’d want his movie to be as eccentric as he is.
The other thing I liked most about this film was its honesty. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was fun, sure, but it in no way painted an accurate picture of Freddie Mercury, whom was rather notorious for his drug-and-alcohol-fueled parties. “Rocketman” gets the nasty stuff out of the way right at the beginning when Elton walks into an AA meeting dressed as the devil and lays it out in the open that he has alcohol, cocaine, prescription pill, and sex addiction… While it might not be the most exciting way to open your movie (remember “Bohemian” started with a glimpse at Live Aid), it does get your attention. It lets you know that behind the persona on stage and screen there is a real man with real struggles, and I personally prefer a portrait of a man to a deification of one.
My biggest problem with this film is it just sort of ends. There’s no real conclusive tying up of themes or a spotlight on a highlight of Elton’s career; it just sort of ends with him deciding to get sober and then it cuts to some facts about Elton’s life. Really, this movie paints a picture of Elton’s earlier years up until he started to turn his life around; it ends right as things presumably start to go better for him.
This film has a few issues, most notably the ending, but really, this movie’s ambition and willingness to not skirt the dirty details make it a far more compelling story than the one that was told in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, though, performance wise, Malek still takes the cake. As a whole this film is really enjoyable, and I think anyone who has even a casual interest in Elton would appreciate it.
Just a quick side note: the somewhat notorious music manager John Reid appeared in both “Bohemian” and “Rocketman”, and both times he was played by Game of Thrones actors. In this film Richard Madden played him and in “Bohemian” Aidan Gillen (“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”). Just a weird little coincidence.
Review Written By: