Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden
R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
2 hrs., 1 min.
So you’re thinking, “this is the life of noted singer/songwriter Elton John?” You’re assuming this is a musical biopic? A behind-the-scenes history of Elton John’s music? Ehhh, not quite, not so much and not really. In fact, it’s hard to describe this film in a traditional sense. The story plays fast and loose with the facts. The songs are out of chronological order. And good luck if you know any of the history of John’s life. In short, this film rapidly flies off course.
While there are some great choreography and arrangements of John’s song, the story is a mess, the explanation being that this is more of a musical fantasy based on John’s life. Well, that’s one way to put it. The other more accurate way to say it is . . . this story’s a mess.
We begin with Elton John (Taron Egerton) arriving in a cab at a nameless rehab center. Running down the hall in a devil costume, he arrives at a group therapy session, sits down in a chair and begins to talk. Flashbacks begin.
As a child, Reggie Dwight takes an interest in his grandmother’s piano and begins to demonstrate that he’s a musical prodigy. Not that either his mother, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), or his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), care much. Both are extremely distant with their son. Reggie’s saving grace is his grandmother, Ivy (Gemma Jones), who eventually takes him to his first scholarship session at London’s Royal Academy of Music.
Several years later, Reggie is discovered playing in a local pub and gets hired to back musicians and singers on an American Soul Revue tour across England. Eventually, under the management of Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe), he lands his big gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, where his career is launched under the care of his supposed lover, John Reid (Richard Madden). The ensuing success, drugs, heartache. All standard biopic stuff.
I’m not sure what inspired director Dexter Fletcher, who was the last in a line of directors to finish up Bohemian Rhapsody. Other films have creatively taken artists’ music and written a story around them.
I think the intent of Rocketman was to create a story that featured the energy and inspiration of John’s music. In that sense, the film does create a canvas for some great singing and choreography — not only with Egerton, but also some of his fellow cast members, especially John’s younger self, played by Matthew Illesley.
With great costume design provided by Bohemian Rhapsody’s Julian Day and dance moves by British choreographer Adam Murray, the songs come with a flourish and are quite entertaining. Also, John’s arrangements, sung by Egerton and cast, are quite well done.
If a movie of music videos is what you want, you will enjoy Rocketman. If however, you’re distracted by the actual life of Elton John, then your head is going to spin. I don’t want to give too much away. Just remember: It’s only a movie. Facts don’t matter. It’s the spirit that counts.
Well, keep telling yourself that. Elton John’s life is complicated because of the range of arts for which he has been richly acknowledged. Songs, movies, musicals, not to mention all of his charity work. By comparison, Rocketman feels simplistic and repetitive. It’s a rags to riches to kind of a downfall and a feel-good rebound story with a happy ending.
In reality, John’s life has too many levels to capture in a movie this square. The fact that he’s still alive and still creating seems to minimize this type of approach. Enjoy the music, don’t worry about the facts. They don’t matter in this film. After all, if Elton John can rise in the air while playing the piano, what else matters? We all already know he can fly. After all, he’s Rocketman.