Post updated September 13th, 2019 at 03:30 pm
Rocketman isn’t one of the best biopics on a musician I’ve ever seen — that trophy goes to Amadeus, 8 Mile and not-Bohemian Rhapsody — but it’s certainly the most unique. In Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, songs aren’t just incorporated into concert scenes or jam sessions but infused within the veins of the narrative. (Quick fun fact: Fletcher was the dude brought in at the eleventh hour to fix Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer left it in shambles. There he was stuck in a box but did the best that he could. Rocketman is 100% his baby and boy, does he spread his feathers like a peacock trying to showoff how sexy it is.)
Here, Elton John songs are used to paint and encapsulate emotions and drive the narrative forward. It isn’t just a biopic about a musician, but a musical biopic packed with gorgeously choreographed fantasy song and dance numbers that are high in energy and bursting with vibrant colours. What we get is a transportive cinematic experience that is very, very enjoyable!
If you’re looking for a factual detailing of the legend, this isn’t it. Rocketman skews facts and twists details from start to finish. Some of you might have a problem with the way Elton John and his family sings ‘I Want Love’ when Elton was still a young boy named Reggie Dwight, when in reality that song was only released in 2001 when the man was 54 years old. However, I don’t go to these movies for facts — there are documentaries and books and articles for that. I go to these films for authenticity, which Rocketman is brimming with.
‘I Want Love’, regardless of when it was factually written and released, epitomizes the absence of and desperate need for love in the Dwight family. Writer Lee Hall ensures that every scene is authenticly written and his screenplay portrays Elton John in a manner that is honest and true, even when the facts are distorted; even when it’s a moment of pure fantasy.
Rocketman is also uniquely structured. We open with a door is pushed ajar, penetrated by sunlight, heavenly and blinding. Through it walks a man, in slow motion, dressed in a devil’s wardrobe. I think Elton’s friends will tell you that it’s a shot that perfectly encapsulates the contradiction that is Elton John back in the day. The light and the dark. The good man and the delinquent. The doors Elton just opened isn’t one that leads onto a stage, but to a rehab centre. “Hi, I’m Elton Hercules John and I’m an alcoholic, cocaine addict, sex addict, bulimic and shopaholic.” It’s a powerful line, one that takes us back in time to when he was a kid.
The entirety of Rocketman is a flashback. It’s fast-paced and presented in a manner that feels like one long never-ending montage. Everything flashes in and out like a blur. At times, there’s a time jump and you don’t realise it immediately. It makes sense because the story is being told by a drug addict, who spent a majority of his youth intoxicated and unclear of what’s real and not. So, the unorthodox format of the movie makes sense. An exciting musical number that transitions to Elton John suddenly waking up in bed maybe a few weeks, months or years later makes sense. The very concept of time is fuzzy to him and Dexter Fletcher does a great job in making it feel fuzzy to us too. Rocketman is a trip, but one that’s crafted in a way that’s seamless, smooth and coherent.
But what I love the most about Rocketman is that underneath all of it, the songs, dances, colours and flamboyant attires, is a story about a man who simply wants to be loved. Elton John’s military father resented him. I think he resented himself and his marriage and channelled that hate towards little Reggie. Elton wants his father to be proud of him but his father never is even when he displays his otherworldly talent. He’s the kind of dad that gets angry at his son for looking at fashion magazines because it isn’t “manly.”
His mom, played brilliantly by Bryce Dallas Howard, on the other hand, is a complicated figure. She loves Elton but is incapable of expressing herself. In the film’s most heartbreaking sequence, we see a grown-up Elton coming out of the closet to his mom. She has always known that he’s gay, but not once does she tell him it’s okay. I believe she’s struggling with how she genuinely feels and how she thinks she should feel because of societal norms.
This household void of love in which Elton grew up in shaped him to be the man that he was for the majority of his life. When he realised that going up on stage and basking in the adoration of his fans isn’t enough to replace true love, he turned to drugs, alcohol and sex to escape reality. But it’s a lot more complicated than that because Elton was also a man incapable of recognising love when it was extended to him. His lyricist/best friend Bernie (Jamie Bell) who stood by his side during his darkest of days was accused of being a betrayer and an intruder.
I think now’s the perfect time to talk about Taron Egerton. My god is he absolutely phenomenal as Elton John. Prior to this, I’ve only seen him in the Kingsman movies, in which he exudes a great deal of charisma and charm. Here, he brings that same magnetism but also puts on a fantastic showcase of authentic and nuanced dramatic performance.
Having said all of that, there’s nothing particularly mind-blowing or eye-opening about its story beats. The skeleton of Rocketman is the same as plenty of other biopics on musicians that are out there. There’s the dysfunctional unsupportive family, the drugs, the sex, yadda yadda. It also isn’t quite the profound character study of Amadeus nor did it make my heart pound as hard as it did watching 8 Mile.
But none of this changes the fact that I really had a blast at Rocketman. And I’m not even an Elton John fan (I was introduced to him by The Lion King and since then have only listened to his hit singles). I love that it’s unique in its execution. I love the weird pacing of it. I love the songs and the larger than life musical numbers. But more than that, I love that it doesn’t just bow down to the man many consider to be one of the greatest musicians ever lived, but explores the complexities and grey areas. It also doesn’t feel like a film made by someone who’s constantly being watched over and scrutinized by people with agendas. *Cough* Bohemian Rhapsody *cough*.