For the second time this year we found ourselves looking at a musical bio-pic. This time, it’s Rocketman, which tells the partial life story of Elton John, documenting his rise and battles with substance abuse. It was a definite struggle to bring the project to life with Tom Hardy once pegged to play John before Taron Egerton eventually assumed the role. Could Rocketman overcome a tough developmental road? There’s only one way to find out.
After starting with an adult John (Egerton) entering an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Rocketman goes back to his childhood as Reginald Dwight (Kit Connor) shows a gift for playing the piano, much to the ambivalence of his parents, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Stanley (Steven Mackintosh). His grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones) supports him, though, and Reggie earns a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.
As a struggling professional, Reggie and his group Bluesology are hired to back up an American blues band traveling through Europe. On this tour he’s given some advice that alters his life: write songs, change your name and be who you want to be. It’s through this that he becomes Elton John, and he’s also introduced to songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), beginning a successful partnership that continues to this day.
Of course, when John blows up he links up with John Reid (Richard Madden; ironically, Reid appears in Bohemian Rhapsody and was played by another Game of Thrones alum), who starts a romance with Elton before taking over as his manager. Their personal relationship sours, however, and John starts turning to alcohol and illicit drugs more and more. While John continues to make hits, his depression and dependency issues are spiraling out of control.
It isn’t the match for Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, but Egerton does a very good job as Elton John, injecting plenty of life, emotion and anguish in his performance. He pulls off the look and the outfits, and he handles the sometimes awkward transitions from dialogue into song effectively. Egerton really is the film’s anchor as so many peripheral characters filter in and out, and relationship dynamics change without much warning.
We wouldn’t consider ourselves huge fans of John, but it turns out he’s responsible for a lot more songs than we realized, and it was pretty fun listening to it. There’s always something interesting and inspiring to us about the creative process, especially when it’s collaborative, and there’s plenty of that in the early years of Rocketman. Seeing his rise and them knowing he’s on his way up is some of the film’s best stuff.
There’s a brisk pace to the movie (sometimes too much so), which creates minimal down time and lets the story keep moving. Along the way there are a number of good secondary showings from people like Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Stephen Graham, who plays John’s first record label head.
That breakneck pace can be an issue at times where the movie doesn’t bother to provide any context for the events that we’re seeing. One moment, Elton and John Reid are hot and heavy, the next he’s flirting with stagehands and punching Elton in the face. Later on Elton sings a song with a woman named Renate, then they’re married in the next scene… and then in the next one they’re unhappily sitting at breakfast followed by divorce. It feels like the movie expects you to know certain details of Elton’s life.
We didn’t love some of the pseudo musical stuff where a serious moment turns into John singing a new song. Sometimes it worked, other times not so much. Plus, for all the songs that get sung a lot of them only seem to be snippets or contained verses rather than the whole thing. Where Bohemian Rhapsody gave you full performances to sink your teeth into, Rocketman offers up the Cliff’s Notes versions.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s plenty of extras here, including extended musical performances and a bunch of deleted or extended scenes. They’re not great, but it’s definitely worth watching — as you’d imagine they’re content scenes and not musical stuff. Beyond that, a number of “behind the scenes” features can be found with the highlight being the studio sessions with John and Egerton, who legit sings the songs.
Rocketman is a mostly enjoyable film, though the jumps from one life event to the next minus any context can be a little jarring. Still, fans of Elton John should particularly enjoy the weaving of songs and drama.