A biopic of living legend Elton John has been in development for years. The singer’s first choice to play him was Justin Timberlake, but the first actor attached to play him was Tom Hardy. However, budget issues, creative differences, and the fact Hardy couldn’t sing caused the project to be put on hold. Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman) stepped out as director of Rocketman while Dexter Fletcher (who directed the overlooked Eddie the Eagle and finished directing Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer got fired) stepped in. With Taron Egerton playing the titular artist, it’s about time to get the music biopic Sir Elton John deserves. It certainly paid off brilliantly!
Elton John (Egerton), born Reginald Dwight (rising newcomers Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor play the singer as a youngster), grew up in Middlesex with his horrible parents Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) and Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and caring grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones). He dreams of songwriting and playing the piano; becomes a prodigious student at the Royal Academy of Music.
As an adult, Reggie changes his name to Elton John and meets his music partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). They meet inside a cafe, discuss about popular music, and become friends almost instantly (they still collaborate to this day). Scottish music manager John Reid (Richard Madden) works under his wing while having a brief relationship. Although struggling with his alcoholism, drug addiction, and homosexuality, Elton’s motivation is to get the love he deserves.
As a big fan of Elton John, there are a lot of things in Rocketman that would have disappointed. Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliott, War Horse) make up for what Bohemian Rhapsody got wrong. There is a lot of graphic content (e.g. drug use, sexual content) suited more for adults, and not dumbed-down to appeal more teenagers. Instead of lip-synching, the stars actually sing the songs. Rocketman is unlike your typical music biopic. It’s a jukebox musical and a fantasy wrapped into one fantastic movie.
Egerton brings a lot of flamboyant energy and charisma as Sir Elton. It makes perfect sense not just because he looks like him, but they hint it in Sing when his character performed “I’m Still Standing”, and the singer made a small appearance in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. His singing is the icing on the cake.
The movie opens up with him in rehab wearing his “stage gear”, as he perfectly describes his ridiculous costumes he wears while performing live, setting up what’s to come during the two-hour ride. He struggles getting the respect from his friends and family, while living in his own little world. During the “Rocket Man” sequence (featuring gorgeous cinematography by George Richmond), he sets off into the night sky from the crowded arena like a rocket, and explodes like a firework, which resembles how Elton’s fame sets off. While in the “Bennie and the Jets” sequence, he fantasizes himself in an orgy, which showcases the descent into sex and drug addiction. I just love how the two contradict each other perfectly.
After coming a long way from winning everyone over with his impressive debut in Billy Elliott, Bell does great work as Bernie Taupin, and definitely a front-runner for Best Supporting Actor during awards season. Madden’s John Reid is one everyone loves to hate; he manipulates Elton for money after their first significant night with each other.
“I think it’s going to be a long, long time” (yeah, I had to go there) for a music biopic to top something as magical and devastating as Rocketman. With its colorful, extravagant sets, terrific performances, a screenplay that never shies away from Elton’s successes and struggles, this movie has its heart in the right place. One of the year’s absolute best!