Rocketman (2019): A Brief Review

Slight spoilers within – nothing too heavy but I recommend watching the movie before reading this anyway.

So a few days ago I managed to finally catch up with a few movies, one of them being Rocketman. Being completely honest, I didn’t have high hopes for this one until the first reviews came out. I didn’t think much of the trailer, and I was still healing from the damage that Bohemian Rhapsody’s Oscar triumph had done to my cinephile soul. I was excited to see Taron Egerton take on his most challenging role to date, but I was just expecting another mediocre biopic of a musical legend. 

And boy was I wrong. 

Rocketman is everything I never expected to it be. It has heart, soul, and actually competent production values in just about every area. The acting, directing, cinematography, editing, sound etc, was all brilliant and the final product turned into a show-stopping, toe-tapping, musical adventure which for the most part was more movie-musical than biopic. Instead of just the usual performances of the songs, some of the songs were used to set a scene, to convey emotion, even songs that weren’t technically even written yet by that point in Elton John’s life. 

As tired as I am with how rote musical biopics are becoming, Rocketman somehow manages to stick to a very safe formula which taking risks in just about every other area. The script follows a familiar pattern, but it doesn’t matter because the performances and the direction are wild, in the same grandstanding way that Elton John began his career. It captures an energy, an essence of an icon, its tone and atmosphere seem to live and breathe John’s music and vivacity, which is equally smart and exciting for a biopic of this nature. Director Dexter Fletcher’s control on this movie will no doubt incite comparisons to his previous film, Bohemian Rhapsody, but honestly I think that no comparisons are necessary. Rocketman outclasses the former in just about every way. The highlights of Bohemian Rhapsody were Rami Malek’s performance, and the nostalgia that came with the recreated LiveAid performance. Rocketman provides both of these in spades. 

Taron Egerton genuinely surprised me. I figured that if Elton John had helped to choose Taron to play him, he must have something. But I’d never seen him take on something like this. My main experience with the actor was in the Kingsman movies, a role that was nowhere as complex and intricate as this one. Egerton was playing the highs and lows of Elton John’s personal life and career; from his confidence to his vulnerabilities. Those insecurities that you could see in Egerton’s expressive eyes, but knew weren’t going to come out. There are many “Oscar moments” for Egerton, and I’m thoroughly convinced that he should at the very least be in the middle of the conversation. There are many films left to see, but I’ll very surprised if a performance by a leading actor moves me and thrills me as much as that of Taron Egerton. 

Admittedly, before going into the movie, I wasn’t very familiar with Elton John’s life. I knew a fair few of his songs, including some brilliant deep cuts that they missed out of the movie, but I knew the bare minimum about his life. So I was ready to be taken on the journey, to find out how the young boy with a proclivity for playing the piano turned into a worldwide sensation. What I was not ready for was the dazzling musical numbers, brilliant choreography, and the sense of genre that inspired success. Fletcher had a clear vision, and a hold over this movie that controlled the striking tones each act presents. Elton’s life is a rollercoaster of emotions, which is traversed sensitively and pretty much perfectly by Fletcher and the script. The hypodiegetic narrative stylings are admittedly a little cliched and could have been solved more creatively, but it works for what it is. It provides an emotional anchor, as we flick back to the therapy scenes, we see how each event being described affects the person that Elton is while telling the story. It gives Taron a lot of room to play with many different things, and he takes advantage of each and every one of them. He doesn’t let the costumes or the music do all of the work, he lets them elevate what he’s already bringing to the table, which is a myriad of emotional cues. 

The supporting cast do a fine job, too. Jamie Bell particularly impresses, though he does that in everything I’ve seen him in. Bryce Dallas Howard does a great job, though her accent is a little bit shaky in places, I thought. Her dialect sort of switches in between lines. It didn’t distract from the performance, though. Richard Madden is well-cast as Elton’s charming yet manipulative manager/lover. (Oh, and the sex scene? Kudos). 

There’s an indescribable quality and energy to this film which lets you get past the somewhat derivative story structure and familiar biopic tropes, and it actually reminded me a little bit of La La Land, maybe it’s a sort of wonderstruck finesse which with the musical numbers are directed. There are some jaw-dropping musical moments that are a joy to watch. Elton walking around as the camera follows him while singing Tiny Dancer is so simple but it works for the character and shows off the emotional resonance that scene is having. 

I didn’t know that movie could be both a fun time at the cinema and a deep character study. That sort of two-hander feels rare these days, but Rocketman manages to bring charm and extravagance to both of those factors, and the combination makes for a fun-filled, explosive, erratic, gem of a movie. I can’t wait to see it again and again. 

Let me know what you thought if you’ve seen it! Either in the comments or on Twitter @Jamie_Carrick_

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