Sunday 9 June 2019

Film Review: Rocketman

The enigmatic Elton John gets the music biopic treatment in Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton as the bedazzled musical maestro.

The music biopic is a subgenre unto itself, with everyone from Mozart to Miles Davis immortalised on the silver screen through the years. And the genre still has legs too; most recently, Freddie Mercury's biopic Bohemian Rhapsody defied a divisive reception to woo audiences and the Academy alike, making just shy of $1 billion worldwide and winning three Oscars to boot.

Next up is another flamboyant British rockstar in the form of Elton John, here played by Welsh actor Taron Egerton (the Kingsman series, Eddie the Eagle). Directed by Dexter Fletcher (who, curiously, went uncredited as reshoot director on Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer went AWOL), Rocketman is a raw and rousing look at John's meteoric rise and struggles with substance abuse and sexuality during the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

The film opens with a bang, with John booking himself into rehab while clad in an ostentatious orange outfit. He's at his lowest ebb, and through the rehabilitation process, reflects on his humble beginnings as the only child in a loveless family right on through to playing to thousands at Madison Square Garden.

As such, the film plays very fast and loose with the truth – but it works, as if John's own hazy recollections of events are blurring together or exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Key events and songs don't quite match up to where they should be in history, but it makes for a series of entertaining and often extravagant song and dance numbers – so what's the use in complaining? The musical set pieces are energetic, colourful and move the story forward, making for a two-hour film that races by (at least during the first two-thirds). The pacing does start to lag a little towards the end, as John hits rock bottom after rock bottom.

However, at least we have the supremely talented and charismatic Egerton here to hold it all together. I could string together a sentence of superlatives, but it wouldn't be enough to do it justice – Egerton's astounding performance needs to be seen to be believed. Capturing the highs and lows of John's career to date, Egerton disappears behind the thick sunglasses and flamboyant feather-clad outfits to embody the man's heart, mind and soul. He's simply brilliant, and wholly deserved to be remembered come Oscar season.

Also exemplary is Jaime Bell as Bernie Taupin, the understated author of John's discography. He's the quiet and reserved shoulder to cry on, and perfectly complements Egerton's often erratic and emotional lead.

Bryce Dallas Howard feels a little miscast as Egerton's abrasive mother; not because she can't act the part, but because she feels too young to be a bitter empty-nester. Similarly, Richard Madden's Machiavellian record label executive (and on/off lover of Elton) is a detestable villain, but often that's all he is – a villain. I'm sure the edges of his character have been rounded off to make things neater, shorter and easier for audiences.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Rocketman is what Bohemian Rhapsody so desperately wanted to be. A rousing and raw portrait of one of Britain most beloved musicians, Rocketman is a timeless flight that flies as high as a kite.

Rocketman is in cinemas across Australia now.

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