Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Runtime: 2 hr 1 min
Rating: R21 (Some Homosexual Content)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/rocketmanmovie/
Opening Day: 13 June 2019
Synopsis: ROCKETMAN is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. The film follows the fantastical journey of transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John. This inspirational story - set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton - tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture.
Comparisons with last year’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ are inevitable, but ‘Rocketman’ boasts more than its fair share of distinctive flair to be regarded in its own right. Both are directed by Dexter Fletcher (in the case of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, after Bryan Singer decided to go AWOL on set), and although both revolve around rock acts in the 70s and 80s whom survived self-destructive phases of alcohol and drug abuse after becoming hyper-popular, ‘Rocketman’ is hardly the straight-up biography that its predecessor was, playing more like a full-blown Broadway musical with lavish production numbers that you would expect from say ‘Mamma Mia’ or ‘Les Miserables’.
It’s not hard to understand Fletcher’s motivations for doing so. Even as it is based on the real-life story of how a tubby kid from Middlesex called Reggie would go on to sell 300 million records, ‘Rocketman’ still more or less follows the rags-to-rock-to-riches narrative of the subgenre: a brief look at his (often difficult) childhood, a fortuitous meeting with a cynical record executive, a breakout performance that catapults him to instant fame, an aforementioned descent into drink-and-drugs hell, and finally a triumphant comeback. Kudos therefore to Fletcher for his cinematic inventiveness of visual and emotional embellishments, in order that the film transcends its conventions, and we dare say, lifts you off your feet.
In fact, we mean that literally: in portraying Elton’s breakthrough at L.A.’s Troubadour, Elton floats in the air over his piano while performing ‘Crocodile Rock’, and the audience in turn levitate with him. That is the sort of creative license which Fletcher and writer Lee Hall (of ‘Billy Elliott’) have taken with the material, that they establish right from the beginning with an opening act that sees Elton barreling off stage dressed in satanic red with devil horns and plopping himself down for a group therapy session (to exorcise his own demons, get it?). That same brio is subsequently demonstrated in how the film refuses to confine the tunes to the concert stage, preferring instead elaborate song-and-dance sequences that often break the fourth wall.
Some of these are gorgeously staged, such as that which Taron Egerton (who plays Elton) performs the titular song with his boyhood self at a bottom of a swimming pool, or that which Egerton sings ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’ after he blames his mother for an unhappy childhood and pushes Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) away when the latter offers him advice to sober up, or that which Egerton tells the world ‘I’m Still Standing’ upon his successful recovery following rehab. But admittedly, there are others which may come off a little awkward, like when Elton is conveyed to hospital to the tune of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ that sees a team of ER doctors and nurses spin him around on a stretcher in an empty glass-walled room.
But thankfully, even amidst the pageantry, ‘Rocketman’ never does lose focus of the repressed emotions from his tumultuous childhood years that Elton was bound to have to overcome, as well as the relationships which for better or worse defined his life and his music. The former forms much of the necessarily more deliberate-paced first half-hour of the movie, which conveys not only a dad (Steven Mackintosh) who had withheld his affection and approval, but also a mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) who ran hot and cold over him depending on her needs; the latter, on the other hand, consists primarily of that with Bernie, and his manipulative manager cum sometimes lover John Reid (Richard Madden).
With John, the film gets to live up to its promise of not shying away from portraying Elton’s homosexuality, as we see them both kiss, grind and have sex in as vivid a manner as possible for an R21 rating without having to be censored. John is quite inevitably the movie’s antagonist, whose betrayal is cast as what is responsible for Elton’s downfall; yet the more compelling supporting act here is Bernie, whose friendship with Elton (not in the romantic way, mind you) is the genuine love story of the movie, and is captured beautifully in their collaboration on ‘Your Song’. Oh yes, with Bernie, Elton’s story finds its humanity and poignancy which, more than the glitter and excess, is arguably what will stay with you long after the credits roll.
You’ll certainly remember too the fact that Egerton sings every tune here in the movie, compared to say Rami Malek’s lip-synching in ‘Rhapsody’, an achievement which must be seen and heard for yourself to be believed. To be sure, Egerton isn’t trying to mimic Elton; rather, he channels Elton’s spirit and emotion into each and every song, and coupled with an utterly committed performance, delivers a tour-de-force that captures every elation and heartbreak in equally vivid detail. It is Egerton’s show from start to finish, but both Bell and Madden offer excellent support, the former beautifully emphathetic and the latter coolly seductive in complementing Egerton’s rich, varied and multi-layered portrayal.
So even though ‘Rocketman’ comes so soon after ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, you’ll find that it offers its own unique pleasures which more than differentiates itself. Like we said, this isn’t a straightforward biopic of Elton’s life, but one that (Elton and his husband David Furnish, as executive producers, have endorsed) isn’t afraid to juggle the songs in order to achieve maximum emotional resonance with the precise moment within the film. It is without a doubt all the better for taking those artistic liberties, and with such a magnificent lead in Egerton, deserves to be a smash hit come awards season next year. We guarantee you’ll have a euphoric blast of a time with it, which is exactly how a biopic of an ebullient star like Elton John should leave you.
(Exuberant, heartbreaking and deeply poignant, this lively retelling of Elton John's life in Broadway fashion is a euphoric blast of a time)
Review by Gabriel Chong