ROCKETMAN

The musical biopic just may be the most trope filled genre in all of film. Going back as far as the 1970’s, they haven’t really changed much and they all basically follow the same formula. How the subject grew up as a child, their discovery of music, their subsequent rise to stardom which causes issues with drugs and relationships, making a comeback, etc. I mean, what else is there to really do with these stories, though? All successful musicians follow the same basic story, with maybe some differences in personal lives. The only real draw is to see which actor they cast to play these icons and while they often do an outstanding job, they’re usually stuck carrying a mediocre film on their shoulders. 

Rocketman opens with Elton John (Taron Egerton) entering a rehab session for his drug addiction, where he recounts his life from childhood to his current (and sometimes literal) star-studded status. As his story is told through musical numbers of his songs, he experiences the ups and downs of being a rock star, including fame, money, drugs, isolation, and more. 

Right off the bat, you know this isn’t going to be your typical biopic. When the film opens, John is looking at his child self and they begin singing a duet with each other and I knew I was in for something far more artistic and introspective than other films in the genre. Biopics typically aren’t musicals, although they feature a lot of singing and dancing. Rocketman is an actual musical, with characters breaking out into songs and choreographed dances. While this is still a film that takes place in the real world, it being a musical gives it a bit of leeway to get a bit more fantastical. Seeing an actor perform concert scenes as the titular musician is cool, but it really just amounts to an imitation. You’re just watching a performance and not getting a whole lot out of their character. Joaquin Phoenix was terrific in Walk the Line, but him doing the best cover of Ring of Fire ever doesn’t say much about Cash’s character in the film. It’s just another point in the story. Every song in Rocketman is used to reinforce the themes and develop John’s character, as well as the other characters who also participate in the songs. It’s not like you’re just watching a musical on Elton John’s life, but actually living in the world he lived in. 

There are still some concert scenes here and there where Egerton can show off his pipes and charismatic, flamboyant stage presence. He more than captures the larger than life person who is Elton John, complete with all of his iconic, colorful costumes. What he does even better is capture the side of John that the public never really saw. This film has no pretenses with itself and since John was heavily involved in bringing the film to light, I deeply respect that he wanted to make a film that told his story, warts and all. John is not a sympathetic character here. He’s insecure, petty, selfish, egotistical, and takes it all out on his close friends, particularly his lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). The main theme is that John feels like he’ll never be loved and always be alone. His parents didn’t love him and since he constantly pushed everyone away, nobody else loves him either. Taupin’s more reserved and secure personality is a nice contrast to John’s, and while they’re both very different people, it’s because of their creative relationship why they truly understand each other. It shows that he doesn’t need family or a lover, but just a genuine relationship with somebody. 

While director Dexter Fletcher and Lee Hall creatively bring John’s rise to fame to light, there were a lot of glossed over elements that weren’t sufficiently developed in the film. It’s expected, since it only covers a certain period of his life, but some elements, such as his brief marriages felt thrown in there simply because they had to. It all still serves a purpose in reinforcing the themes of the film, but when a character, who seems to be important, is just there for one scene, it feels out of place. The only time the film really gets conventional is the very end, where we’re treated to title cards explaining what John has done since then. It’s heartwarming to see how much he’s improved over the years, especially in terms of sobriety, but it felt a bit superfluous. 

Even then, I still totally respect and loved the direction the cast and crew took with Rocketman. After Bohemian Rhapsody showed us all that generic biopics are still alive and well, this shows that chances should be taken with the formula and that it may net spectacular results. Ironically, Fletcher took over the Bohemian Rhapsody directing reigns from Bryan Singer after he was fired, but he was just finishing someone else’s work. This felt like a musical biopic with an actual vision, while still honoring the subject at hand and telling their story in an emotional way. 

8.5/10

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