Sunday, June 2, 2019

Stubs - Rocketman

Rocketman (2019) Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard Directed by Dexter Fletcher Screenplay by Lee Hall Produced by Adam Bohling, David Furnish, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn Run time: 121 minutes. UK/USA Color Bio Fantasy Musical

Rocketman opened this past weekend and will no doubt be compared with last year's rock biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Both films cover music from roughly the same period of time, center on real-life men who come out as gay and were directed by the same man, Dexter Fletcher, though he only finished the Queen film when Bryan Singer became problematic. Both films also take liberties with the reality of their subjects, but that's where the comparisons end.

While I liked Bohemian Rhapsody, it doesn't hold a concert lighter to Rocketman. Elton John is a bigger than life character and his film bio, on which he is an Executive Producer, is likewise fantastical. The film, which stars Taron Egerton, might not be a strict retelling of John's life, but it does hit the main highlights, from meeting his life-long writing partner, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), to coming to terms with his sexuality to the magic of writing "Your Song" to his breakthrough performance at the Troubadour in 1970 to his life falling into disrepair before he gets sober. The story stops before he meets his true love, David Furnish, and founds his AIDS charity, though we're shown that post-film.

Taron Egerton becomes Elton John in Rocketman.

It should come as no surprise that Taron Egerton can sing. The first time many people heard of him was in the film Sing (2016) in which he sings John's "I'm Still Standing" as the animated teenage gorilla, Johnny. He definitely loses himself in the role here, becoming such a look-alike that it is reported even Elton couldn't tell it was Egerton in some photos and not himself. Egerton's performance is just as good, if not better than, Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury. Likewise, he should be an early contender for the same Best Actor Award.

John, a musical prodigy, received no encouragement from his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) nor his self-absorbed mother, Sheila Eileen (Bryce Dallas Howard). Howard excels in her role here and I would be surprised if she doesn't get nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Likewise, Richard Madden gives a strong performance as John Reid, a horrible man responsible for some of Elton's greatest professional successes and some of his deepest personal life lows.

Hats off to Dexter Fletcher for his direction. He realized that it wasn't important to make sure every song appeared in the proper order but to use them to tell John's story. He adds in fantasy elements that sometimes emulate the sensation of the moment, say his coming out at the Troubadour. The costumes that John was known for are also recreated, though not duplicated. There were a couple of songs, like "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", that gets sort of watered down as an ensemble dance number, as the movie sometimes seems to serve as a blueprint for the Broadway Musical that will most likely follow after a time.

Do you come away knowing everything about Elton John? No. There are people who are eliminated entirely from his life or downplayed. They don't even get how he came up with his stage name. But you do come away with a better understanding of the man and the people and events that shaped his life.

I would highly recommend Rocketman. If you liked Bohemian Rhapsody, you'll love this film.

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