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‘Rocketman’ (review)

Produced by Adam Bohling, David Furnish,
David Reid, Matthew Vaughn

Written by Lee Hall
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell,
Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

The popularity of the biopic has hardly lessened in recent years, as films portraying the life story of a myriad of subjects with varying degrees of accuracy continue to be a fixture on cinematic release schedules. As such, it only seems to be a matter of time before just about any pop culture icon gets their own film, and Elton John is the latest to get the biopic treatment with Rocketman.

However, where most biopics largely follow the same narrative template, often making such films underwhelming and formulaic, Rocketman instead does what it says on the marketing tin by telling Elton John’s story as a musical fantasy, and the result is dazzlingly bold.

Suitably flamboyant, Rocketman is a musical explosion of color and spectacle, but that does not mean that the more traditional narrative elements are neglected. Telling the story of a boy who was never hugged by his father and grew up to be a man longing to be loved, the expertly choreographed musical numbers are sprinkled generously but meticulously throughout the film, resulting in a well-paced and entertaining feature that makes sure to maintain the humanity of its subject.

Taron Eggerton’s enthusiasm is evident throughout, and the choice to let him perform the songs instead of using someone who sounds completely identical to Elton John – or even using the original recordings with the man himself, for that matter – allows Eggerton to not only act with the use of dialogue and body language but also via dance and song, which increases the impact of his performance and by proxy the artistic integrity of film as a whole.

Much like Eggerton impresses as Elton John, Jamie Bell is also enjoyable in the role of songwriter Bernie Taupin. Sharing great chemistry with his co-star, their artistic relationship not only feels warm and sincere, it also lends new depth to the degree of emotion with which platonic relationships between men are portrayed on the big screen.

Naturally, with Bohemian Rhapsody being a very recent box success also concerning an exceptionally talented musician who is also considered a gay icon, many will inevitably compare the two films. Where Bohemian Rhapsody was rightfully critisized for failing to adequately portray Mercury’s homosexuality, Rocketman manages to include imagery of queer culture that fits the campiness of Elton John’s persona without becoming caricatural of queer culture in itself. Similarly, the love scenes between Eggerton and Richard Madden, who portrays the toxic John Reid, are passionate without becoming salacious.

By showing both the passionate highs and the abusive lows of their problematic relationship rather than censoring the truth to appease conservative markets, Rocketman feels more earnest than Bohemian Rhapsody, ensuring that the portrayal of Elton John feels multi-faceted, giving the audience a fleshed out narrative to sink their teeth into between the musical entertainment.

And that is what Rocketman first and foremost is – a musical. Obviously, this also means that some artistic liberties have been taken, but thanks to the film starting and continuously returning to the confessional setting of a group therapy session, the film ultimately feels grounded and sincere. As a result, Rocketman is engaging beyond the superficial appeal of the showmanship associated with the musical genre and the wide array of Elton John classics featured in the film, and it will be interesting to see what director Dexter Fletcher gets up to next.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.


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