There are a fair number of comparisons to be made with “Rocketman” to last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The crossover in directors and characters, both centering on LGBTQ+ musicians with drug problems considered to be legendary musicians and both featuring extravagant costumes.
However, while those comparisons are apt, they’re virtually skin deep, as “Rocketman” is everything “Rhapsody” wanted to be; clever, stylish, a bit cliched and an all-around wonderful film.
Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Eddie the Eagle”) shines as Elton John, a wonderful interpretation of the musician. While there are moments of uncanny similarities in the costuming, mannerisms and vocal work, most of what makes Egerton’s performance so excellent is the focus less on mimicry and more on emulating the emotional states of the performer throughout his long career.
Some of the supporting cast are merely one-note representations however; Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) makes Elton’s former manager and boyfriend little more than an evil scowling antagonist and Bryce Dallas Howard (“Jurassic World,” “The Help”) shrieks through a thick accent as Elton’s mother, not really doing much of anything other than being a hag.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re all thinly portrayed. Stephen Graham (“Snatch,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) manages to make his representation of music producer Dick James quaint and enjoyable while it lasts, and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot,” “The Adventures of Tintin”) is absolutely doing some of the best work of his career as Bernie Taupin.
While the star of the show is Egerton and his emotional representation of Elton, that emotional aspect is also where the film shines the brightest. Thanks to its premise, as a fantastical jukebox musical of Elton’s greatest hits, the films is admitting from the start that it isn’t going to strictly follow the facts. However, it does fill that space in with something far greater: emotional resonance.
Instead of portraying Elton’s life as precisely as possible, director Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle”) and writer Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot,” “War Horse”) opt to focus on getting the emotional state of Elton and his situations across. If some characters or moments need to be mixed around in order to make this work, they make that sacrifice, and it ends up being a stronger film for it.
It also helps that the cinematography from George Richmond (“Eddie the Eagle,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) is excellent, meshing wonderfully with the extravagant costumes and musical choreography. It creates living breathing representations of the songs that Elton made so popular, delivering a toe-tapping and visually astonishing experience.
It doesn’t avoid every bump in the road, however. Clichés are still rampant throughout, and while they are accurate to the broad picture of Elton’s life, it does still deliver the beats of drug addiction, bad relationships, bad parents, etc. But it does still manage to freshen them up a bit thanks to the format. It’s also wonderful in that, there are moments throughout the film where Elton himself admits to not regretting his moments of drugs or lunacy.
What this means is that Fletcher and his crew aren’t satisfied with showing a dumbed down version of their subject. This is a very frank movie, blunt with its subject and its material, wrapped up in fantastical flourishes. That doesn’t save it from its clichés, but it certainly helps.
Overall, this is an emotionally satisfying story, with great performances that manages to get the point of Elton’s life across, even if it sacrifices some accuracy. It’s still clichéd and has its share of hammy performances, but its just as glorious and flashy as you’d expect a movie about Elton John’s life to be.
If people want a beat by beat accurate retelling, go read an autobiography. Instead, come here to find an impressively shot and emotionally authentic experience. 4.5/5