A++ - 99%
We’re treated to Elton’s greatest hits throughout. They manifest on stage, real life, in dream-like sequences, and through alternating times.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t that big on last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Before you get angry, know that I think Queen is amazing. The life of Freddie Mercury deserved to be a film, and Rami Malek was flawless, but therein is the issue. The movie didn’t rise to his performance. Without Malek on screen, we are left in an awkward intermission, waiting for the next song. The too predictable, too routine surrounding narrative doesn’t embody the talent and musical genius of Queen or a creative icon like Freddie Mercury.
Rocketman’s director, Dexter Fletcher stepped in to finish Rhapsody after disagreements with the original director. Like most movies of this sort, it falls into a trap of something happens and the main character/band reacts with a song. However, Fletcher’s handling of Rocketman proves to be anything but predictable.
In the opening scene, a ragged but bedazzled Elton (played by Kingsman’s Taron Egerton) walks through a door as if he’s about to take stage. Instead he enters rehab in full regalia. He tells of his woes in a recovery group circle while dressed as a flamboyant devil. We don’t linger long before we’re transported to an old-fashioned musical number. Not without humor, his 1950s neighbors dance in the streets while his childhood self sings a high-pitched “The Bitch is Back.”
This time, the movie equals the theatrical performance of its lead, and becomes just as electrifying as Elton John. The story alternates between biopic and full-blown psychedelic musical. It shakes up the old formula in a way that we can’t predict.
The crazy energy reminded me of the Monkees’ movie Head, but unlike Head, Rocketman’s disjointed “trips” mean something profound.
We’re treated to Elton’s greatest hits throughout. They manifest on stage, real life, in dream-like sequences, and through alternating times. We witness snippets of ideas, the pain and joy that create songs. They come from people and events that map Elton’s rise to stardom. From life with his mother, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), who doesn’t quite accept his sexuality. The heartbreak of an absent father who can’t hug him. His first meeting with his lyricist, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Their first agent, Dick James (Stephen Graham), who belittles songs we know to be famous. His first show in L.A. His bastard agent, John Reid (Richard Madden), who steals him away only to sign Elton to a contract he can’t get out of and takes advantage of his love. Seeing such blatant manipulation made me wonder if there is a decent person in the music industry.
All the while the movie checks back into rehab where it started, and where the gloss of showbiz disappears the more we visit. Elton also slowly changes, exchanging his glittery feathers and horns for street clothes. He eventually reveals himself, Reginald Dwight. A fragile human who’s melodic genius would never succeed without his alter ego. Egerton embodies the duality of both man and showman and makes a very personal story believable. In fact, there’s not a weak actor in the cast.
The movie’s fast pace, which adds to his rocket rise, becomes most efficient when Elton’s rock star life nearly kills him. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the excess, and we feel the same self-loathing, and longing for true affection Elton struggles with throughout. But it is in the final moments that the movie becomes golden, and the emotions sweep you away.
Even if the music isn’t your taste, your money will be well spent. It’s a great ride, and it just might be “a long, long time before” you get your feet on the ground again.