Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Running time: 121 minutes
The weird, the whacky and the wonderful chime in throughout Rocketman just as often as the countless classics that made its subject a global icon. A music biopic that, by and large, remains loyal to the tried and tested formula, director Dexter Fletcher — who rode in to pick up the pieces of another recent biopic about another legendary music phenomenon during its final weeks of filming — pumps his Elton John-athon full of inventiveness, full of exuberance, full of energy to a level that seems only fitting for the larger than life character it depicts.
Charting the life and times of Sir Elton, Rocketman has a lot to get through. Beginning with a shy, chubby kid named Reginald experimenting with piano chords in his living room, the film moves at turbo speed, from Middlesex to musical rebirth, as an adolescent Reggie hurtles towards life as Elton Hercules John (Egerton) and an existence defined by an electric stage presence and fuelled by all the drink and all the drugs. During his soaring ascent to the stars, the Rocketman strikes up touching lifelong friendships — cue long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin (Bell) — fiery acquaintances — cue Richard Madden’s striking music manager — flamboyant wardrobes — cue costumes, feathers and winged sneakers — and one serious temper — cue a barrage of ‘fucks’.
Crucially however, through the cracks of the film’s yellow brick road of excess, a more intriguing, refined focus occasionally sprouts. Young Elton’s dysfunctional domestic life with hurtful mother (Bryce Dallas Howard sporting a home-counties accent, no less) and affectionless father (Steven Mackintosh) paints a complex, compelling conundrum as their son’s popularity grows (and hairline recedes); but it’s an idea explored as flimsily as a candle in the wind.
Instead, after ticking the narrative boxes with unremarkable regiment, Rocketman’s big-hitting appeal lies in its handling of the key ingredient: its music. All the celebrated toe-tappers are there, but Fletcher weaves them into his tale with wonderful creativity that rarely does it evoke the same contrived, constructed overtones that so often plague the genre. Fully embracing the movie’s extravagance, the musical numbers do a sound job of complementing its kinetic pace and vivacious visuals. Even during Elton’s darker moments, Fletcher uses the melodies to source warmth and charm from some rather unexpected places — namely, an Avant-garde-tinged sequence that sees Elton singing underwater. While it isn’t likely to give you anything you didn’t already know about the man behind the music, Rocketman provides the music itself with new meanings and poignant layering.
Aptly, Egerton is the standout performer in all of this. Bringing both eccentricity and nuance to the leading man of a film where each character appears as a hyperbolised caricature — none more so than Stephen Graham’s foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking label head — Egerton becomes Elton before our very eyes. Battling personal conflict, balancing public persona while embracing his sexuality — an aspect that the film commendably doesn’t shy away from, despite reported studio pressures — it’s a performance that is both calculated and bonkers, both measured and mad, but wholly worth making a song and dance about. Plus, Egerton brings with him an impressive set of lungs, which, you know, given who he’s portraying, kinda helps.
A frantic, freewheeling foray into the eccentric genius of Elton John, Rocketman is a joyous, zany romp. While it might be largely a paint-by-numbers affair, Egerton is suitably committed in what is, in the best way possible, a sound effort.