Film Review: "Rocketman" is a self-indulgent, dreamy musical
Movies about music seem to be all the rage right now. A Star Is Born broke everyone’s heart as well as providing some of the best cinematic moments of 2018. Bohemian Rhapsody saw huge commercial success, with Rami Malek even winning an academy award for his portrayal of the exuberant Freddie Mercury. Even HBO’s excellent re-telling of Liberace’s rise to fame, Behind The Candelabra, saw Golden Globe glory and rave reviews.
Jumping on the bandwagon this time is non other than Elton John in Rocketman. A supposed biopic of his life before and during the height of his fame, Rocketman shows Taron Egerton (Kingsman) as Elton, as he struggles to leave his haunted past behind. The film opens (and ends) with Egerton, marching through a mysterious hallway decked out in a bright orange masterpiece complete with thousands of crystals and a matching headpiece. The headpiece, in particular, really sets the tone of the film as we see its stark resemblance to devil-like horns, pointing towards hell, whereas the crystals and gigantically fun platform boots point towards a more heavenly side. It is revealed that this hallway is actually rehab. Elton’s ongoing battle of light and dark is represented throughout, becoming the centrepiece that the plot revolves around as he spirals more out of control due to alcohol and drugs.
Elton’s family are seen throughout the film as the main antagonists, with the characters of his mum and dad in particular are scapegoated for most of his issues. A pivotal scene with his father during the early stages of his fame shows just how much abandonment he feels, seeing his absent dad be the doting dad he always wanted, but with a new family. This anger is transported into a catalyst for many breakdowns involving alcohol, drugs and sex. A truly heartbreaking moment is during which Elton tells his mother of his sexuality, to a less than glowing response. Burdened with abandonment issues from his dad and constant disapproval from his mum, excellently played by the superb Bryce Dallas-Howard, Egerton portrays a brutally human side of the larger than life showman that really allows the audience to be drawn into a way that we didn’t expect from the usually private, real-life Elton John.
Unlike, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman is a fantastical re-telling of the story. if you are looking for a simple film that merely intertwines Elton John’s music with non-fictional characters, then this is not the film for you. More of a musical than a biopic, the film is extremely dramatic in every way. In one scene, we see the self professed “Rocketman” transform into an actual rocket, leaving behind any doubts whether the extremely camp Elton had any role to play in the film’s choices. The dialogue at times is on the dramatic side, almost bordering on corny with too many long monologues delivered by the otherwise sensational Egerton that miss the profound mark they ambitiously aim for.
One of the main issues with Rocketman is that perhaps the superstar himself just had a little bit too much involvement. Even a fan myself, the film is too self absorbed. Rather than making a film for audiences about his life, it seems the film has been made for Elton by Elton in order to help heal Elton’s issues. The last scene sees Egerton confront his family in what seems like a selfish scene that is far too personal to fit in with the otherwise absurdly theatrical story. The scene almost appears like a “what I didn’t get to say” in real life and the film was his opportunity.
In interviews, Elton himself has said he didn’t just want to show the glamorous side of his life, wanting to purposely include his battles with drinks and drugs and harmful relationships. Brilliantly played by Bodyguard’s Richard Madden, John Reid is portrayed to be a manipulative manager and former lover of Elton’s that causes more damage than good. This relationship is an excellent part of the film that doesn’t romanticise gay relationships or what the music industry really is like.
The music is obviously fantastic, with that being it’s most redeeming factor. Because when the film fails, you have the immortal lyrics that provided the soundtrack to many people’s lives for so many years, to carry it through. The costumes are incredible, based off every real, flamboyant performance Elton did. Although the film fails to shine past its star subject, Egerton is honestly incredible. A raw performance that is most definitely his best to date.
Ultimately, Rocketman is a sing-along musical that will delight the people that grew up with his music but disappoint the viewers that are looking for a true re-telling of the superstar’s life.