Rocketman is a lot to take in; it’s dazzling, over the top and at times pretty damn spectacular, but unfortunately these moments are few and far between and aren’t quite enough to maintain what is essentially a pretty stock standard musician biopic with a stellar leading role.
The film tells the story of Reggie Dwight’s rise from a young boy in Middlesex to the peak of fame and stardom as Elton John and is stock standard from the hostile and distant father figure (do any successful rock stars have good relationships with their Dads?) to the prick of a music manager/ lover who ends up manipulating the titular hero out of greed and ambition and of course the requisite out of control whirlwind of booze and drugs.
What saves the film from being as dull and unimaginative as something like “Bohemian Rhapsody” are the times when it breaks free from the mould and Taron Egerton as the compelling lead injects such heart into his role that I was sucked in in spite of myself. The set pieces like “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” where Elton takes the song out onto the street and one memorable number where the audience floats off the ground are genuinely good fun. The structuring of the film around an AA meeting was clever and director Dexter Fletcher plays with the form of the film quite effectively.
Elton John’s music dictates the direction and tone of the film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, that is after all why people adore the guy so much. I love musicals, but even for me this got a bit much. I can understand the big dance numbers and the soulful pieces (the simple and beautiful rendition of “Your Song” was one of the highlights for me) but after a while, song after song became exhausting, especially when there was no real reason for that particular song to have warranted its inclusion. Of course audiences will be expecting a good hit of Elton John’s big hits, but was it really necessary to have 21 separate numbers crammed in throughout the film? Probably not, when “Chicago” only had about 12, “Hairspray” 16, “Moulin Rouge” 15 and even “The Sound of Music” only 14. The pace of the film is all over the place and the middle act drags like mad, a big part of it being that the cast was just breaking out in song for no real reason.
Apart from the handful of music numbers which were actually done properly, the saving grace of the film is Eggerton’s performance. The fact that Eggerton does all his own singing and sounds eerily like the real deal wasn’t even the most impressive aspect of the performance for me. Eggerton embodies John’s mannerisms and qualities so distinctly that I often forgot that I was watching a performance at all. His handling of Elton John’s struggle in coming to terms with his homosexuality was particularly impressive, and was positively heartbreaking in a grim scene where he tells his mother (a terrifying Bryce Dallas Howard) from a phone box that he’s gay and her response being that she doesn’t care and that he’s choosing a life where nobody could ever love him.
For me in the end this was a bit of a disappointment, purely because you can see the potential there trying to shine through, but not quite being able to break free from its stringent biopic mould. It’s still definitely worth a watch, even just for the moments of extravagance and spectacle that made Elton John so famous, and for a performance of the man that really does deserve applause.
By Jock Lehman