“This may not ascend to the highs of Bohemian Rhapsody. It deserves to, though. We don’t have a martyr here. We have a survivor who moved past the stage of needing love from those who’d never give it to him. What he finds is a way to be his own friend. From there, he woke up to the world and embraced it. As he let it embrace him.”
Director Dexter Fletcher
Written by Lee Hall
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Jason Pennycooke, Charlie Rowe, Gemma Jones, Steven MackIntosh
Somewhere in the world, there is someone for everybody. Many people spend much of their time lost for what they haven’t found. Sometimes all it takes is for one to realize they are worthy of love, but they need to start by loving oneself.
Rocketman is the tale of one such journey through the world of success and fame that is unimaginable. Elton John (Egerton) is a man who beats a path to stardom with his friend, Bernie Taupin (Bell). Bernie writes the lyrics, Elton (formerly Reginald Dwight) creates music for them. Their partnership is one of the most fruitful in the history of pop music. At one point in the 70’s they were on top of every type of list in the world of music. This film pays respect to that in a very dignified way. This is Elton’s story though.
The story starts out with Elton entering rehab, defiant and tired at once. He starts into the group defining his early life. The first song we hear is The Bitch is Back. It may seem strange, given that song doesn’t appear until well into his career. When one goes with the flow, we discover that, for Fletcher and writer Hall, the placement of the songs is less about chronology and more how they fit the narrative.
Elton’s early years shows the disenchantment with his parents and the careful nurturing of his grandmother, Ivy (Jones). His father (Mackintosh), having returned from service, cares little for his boy who seems a bit weird for him. His mother (Howard) is even more distant. It’s ironic that Howard gives a performance as detestable as the characters she normally plays. She’s usually billed as a nice girl, but the role of distant and cold just fits in one of her best performances.
We move through his meeting with Taupin and are moved when we see the simple brotherly love that they have for one another. Bell and Egerton give their friendship the requisite sweetness of innocence while giving us a close up view of their brilliance. This is the most important relationship in the film outside of Elton’s relationship with himself. They gave it the requisite justice. It is a brotherhood.
From here the story moves into a kind of time warp. We see a morphing from one song to another, used to show emotional ups and down of someone who seems on top of the world. We see his heart chords stretch to the point of nearly snapping. He’s alone on top of the world.
Where Bohemian Rhapsody whimsically pushed through the career of a band, we know the story is really Freddy Mercury’s. In the process we lose sight of a band and the songs just kind of hover in the air, waiting for Malek to fill the void.
Rocketman is a smarter film than that. It goes right into the heart of what it really is, which is a musical. By moving the music to suit the mood, we get more than the sum of its parts. Just about every biopic about music has issues with addiction and recovery. Fletcher wisely turns this trope on our ears. Giving us a fantasy that moves in and out from the spectacular to the most entirely dire.
Egerton’s performance is incredible and award worthy. They make a wise decision to let his voice fill the songs and he does his doppelganger justice. We see Elton John in every stage of life with the looks that we grew used to over the years. Egerton gives John a magnificent living force, as imperfect and deserving of love as anyone.
He’s more than this, though. He is not larger than life. He’s the child as the father of the man at all times. We see all of the things that go into the person to the point that it doesn’t matter how they play with the timeline. This biopic is as true in spirit as any I have ever seen.
This may not ascend to the sales and award highs of Bohemian Rhapsody. It deserves to, though. We don’t have a martyr here. We have a survivor who moved past the stage of needing love from those who’d never give it to him. What he finds is a way to be his own friend. From there, he woke up to the world and embraced it. As he let it embrace him.
(***** out of *****)