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FILM REVIEW ‘Rocketman’; The Refreshingly Honest Showstopping Elton John Biopic

‘[Director] Dexter Fletcher wastes no time at all here setting out his stall.’ 

Rocketman, the Elton John Biopic that faltered in development hell for years (Tom Hardy was once meant to play John) until the traction gained from 2018’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Matthew Vaughn coming on as Producer seemed to kickstart the film into production last Summer. In fact, Rhapsody and Rocketman feel almost intrinsically linked at this point. Rocketman’s Director, Dexter Fletcher, was, after all, infamously flown in at the eleventh hour by 20th Century Fox to replace original helmsman, Bryan Singer on the Queen Biopic. That film received a vitriolic reception from some critics for perceived straightwashing of Freddie Mercury, dedicating more screen time to his relationship with Mary Austin than any gay love affairs. It remains unclear just how much of Bohemian Rhapsody Fletcher was responsible for, but whether it was a lesson well learned or perhaps Rocketman shows how little control over the 2018 biopic he had; regardless Fletcher wastes no time at all here setting out his stall. 

‘[In Rocketman] piles of cocaine, Gay sex and vodka for breakfast are all on display… this [is a] warts and all [piece of cinema]’

Moments into the film, Taron Egerton as Elton John delivers a direct to camera monologue, reeling off a list of shocking confessions to a rehab group as if they were a mission statement for the film itself, informing the audience that this will be a warts and all tale with far less held back than we may have expected given Fletcher’s involvement in Rhapsody. Piles of cocaine, Gay sex (that while not quite ‘Queer as Folk’ still seems surprisingly graphic for a mainstream musical distributed by a major Hollywood studio) and vodka for breakfast are all on display.

From the effective framing device of the rehab group we’re launched into what often comes off stylistically as a West End Jukebox musical high on vast amounts of Class A’s with delirious fantasy sequences interspersed throughout. At first, the decision to spend so much time on John’s childhood seems an odd choice, putting too much weight on the shoulders of Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor, the child actors playing the young Reggie Dwight (Elton John) but it ends up paying dividends by the film’s climax. In truth however, it feels like we’re marking time a little until Edgerton returns during an exuberant performance of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’, as soon as he pops back up on screen, after an extended leave of absence, dancing manically, the film comes properly to life.

‘Edgerton is clearly willing to adopt a Tom Hardy-esque transformation for whatever the role requires, convincing completely as the schlubbier Elton… [showing] no problem pulling off the songs.’

Jamie Bell underplays beautifully as Elton’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, Bryce Dallas Howard is practically unrecognisable as his toxic Mother, Richard Madden is seductive and smooth as John’s former Manager, John Reid, and Stephen Graham tears chunks out of the scenery as Cockney music Publisher, Dick James, walking away with every scene he’s in but this is undoubtedly Edgerton’s film. Made famous for his chav turned secret agent role in the ‘Kingsman’ films where he appeared to be carved out of solid rock, Edgerton is clearly willing to adopt a Tom Hardy-esque transformation for whatever the role requires, convincing completely as the schlubbier Elton and anyone who heard him belt out ‘I’m Still Standing’ on the ‘Sing’ soundtrack last year knew that he’d have no problem pulling off the songs.

‘The bravery exampled by Elton John (who acts as Executive Producer) in authorising a version of his life that portrays him as flawed, damaged and anything but cool is impressive.’

The bravery exampled by Elton John (who acts as Executive Producer) in authorising a version of his life that portrays him as flawed, damaged and anything but cool is impressive. However, it is clear where the film’s sympathies lie, surrounding him by three monsters – his disapproving leech of a Mother, his uninterested absent Father and worst of all, his abusive, manipulative Manager/Lover, John Reid who circle him like a trio of festering wounds throughout the film resulting in some powerfully emotional scenes which Edgerton delivers with beautifully judged restraint. This restraint carries over to the movie itself in the choice to wrap things up in 1983, years before the phenomena of ‘Candle in the Wind’ and still with much of Elton’s career and life to play out including his long standing relationship with David Furnish who doesn’t even appear within the narrative (Furnish was a Producer on the film and heavily involved which shows his selflessness to step back from his own story being told). Instead, ‘Rocketman’s conclusion chooses to focus on personal catharsis rather than career success and I respect it more for that. A fitting end to a refreshingly honest take on sex, drugs & rock n roll.

8/10

 Words: Liam Dempsey



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