R – Biography, Drama, Music
The new Elton John biopic – “Rocketman” – has more in common with “Moulin Rouge!” than it does with last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If we are being honest, this film is perfectly suited to be on Broadway, so I expect this version of Sir Elton’s life to premiere on “The Great White Way” in the next couple of years.
Like the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic that was released to great fanfare, box office numbers and Oscar nominations late last year, “Rocketman” is a biopic that celebrates one of the greatest icons in rock history. Unlike “Rhapsody” this film is a full on musical that also pushes the boundaries of the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll that defined John’s first decade and a half of success. My problem with the Queen biopic is that it played it too safe with a lot of Mercury’s life. You won’t find that an issue with this film. As Sir Elton has said in interviews; “I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life.”
Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) plays John with a nuanced introspection off stage and a fantastical exuberance on it. His loneliness and inner turmoil of having to live life in the closet and his struggle with drugs and alcohol define the film. It’s not a life spanning portrait, but rather a view into the performer’s early career until the point he cleaned up. Egerton is really good here. Enough to get nominated? Giving Oscar’s to Jamie Foxx for “Ray,” Joaquin Phoenix for “Walk the Line,” and Rami Malek last year for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I wouldn’t be surprised if a bit of rock biopic fatigue is setting in. He’ll pull in some good marks, however.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who was brought on to finish “Bohemian Rhapsody” when Bryan Singer was fired, does magnificent work here. The film, which takes place between the 1950’s’-1980’s is photographed by George Richmond, who gives the movie a rich look while also jumping seamlessly into its fantastical musical numbers.
Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot,” “War Horse”) pens a very good screenplay. The biggest favor Hall does for the story is not only pepper it with verisimilitude throughout John’s roller-coaster lifestyle, but also never loses sight of the importance of Elton’s friendship with lyricist and life-long friend Bernie Taupin. Their collaboration and love anchors the film, and the performance of Jamie Bell as Taupin centers the drama swirling around Elton.
Some may not like how a majority of the film feels much more like a musical than other rock biopics, but if you are seeing “Rocketman” you probably already know the tunes and like Sir Elton’s music, so it shouldn’t be an issue. I found the choice refreshing. Freddie Mercury may be more fascinating to watch on the big screen, but “Rocketman” is a better film.