WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -First there was Bohemian Rhapsody and now we have Rocketman, the musical biopic of one the most successful recording artists of the last fifty years. However, unlike Bohemian Rhapsody which focused much of the backstage drama and story on the late Freddy Mercury, Elton John, the subject of this film, is still very much on the planet. Elton had creative input and stressed that he didn’t want his story to be whitewashed; the excesses of mega stardom in the time of excess (the 1970’s and 1980’s) played an important role in Elton’s addictions: drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, costumes, etc. Since the story of the film focuses from Elton’s boyhood until his entrance into rehab, the realistic presentation of these excesses is crucial to the film, even if the film itself isn’t that interested in realism. This leap away from realism into movie musical exploration is one of the reasons this film soars.
Tagged as a musical fantasy, director Dexter Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall (as well as the rest of the fabulous creative team) don’t disappoint. There are musical numbers where characters sing Elton’s songs to convey their thoughts and emotions in a dramatic scene, to reenactments of historical musical performances that are scintillating kaleidoscopes; including a dizzying use of cyclorama to Elton actually exploding in air as fireworks. Characters bursting into song and musical numbers that ditch realism, plus Elton’s songs being sung or played with no adhesion to accurate chronology (for creation or recording of songs) may confuse or vex movie goers and Elton purists who prefer more realistic or traditional storytelling. However I find the choices bold and the film, simply dazzling.
Elton’s childhood and his rocky relationship with his parents, which help explains his need for adoration, combined the root of his self-loathing is deftly written and integrated into the story. The integration of Freddy Mercury’s troubled personal life in Bohemian Rhapsody was not nearly as successful or believable, and one of the reasons I did not like that film as much as this one. In Rocketman, these scenes do not feel collaged in as an afterthought.
Rocketman owes a great deal of its success to the performers, who are all fantastic: Jamie Bell as Elton’s decades old songwriting collaborator, Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as the handsome, but duplicitous John Reid, and Eton’s parents: an unrecognizable Dallas Bryce Howard as his mother and the charming Steven McKintosh as the distant, ambivalent father. Of course, much of the film rides on the incredible authenticity and cannily believable Taron Egerton as Elton. He does all his own singing and captures Elton’s internal vulnerability and charisma so accurately, there are scenes where you think you are seeing the real Elton.
Ultimately the film is about identity and learning to understand and love who you are. There are only so many elaborate costumes you can hide under before you have to reveal yourself. But if you are wearing the fabulous costumes by the masterful Julian Day (the costume designer for Rocketman) then it’s a journey we all want to take.
Rocketman is simply exhilarating, I cannot wait to see it again.