'Rocketman' depicts Elton John's life, from his childhood years in a broken home and time as a young prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music – then named Reginald Dwight – to his enduring musical partnership with Bernie Taupin. As Elton shot to superstardom, he struggled with depression, substance abuse, addiction, and acceptance of his sexual orientation.
Where does one start with the wonder of a movie that is ‘Rocketman’? Well, as with any film, it starts at the beginning, as Elton (Taron Egerton) relates the story of his life while seeking help for addiction and psychological problems. What seems to be a conventional biopic – well, as conventional as it can come from a man in a bright orange, jewel-embezzled one-piece with horns and red feathered wings – soon launches into something else entirely. Dropped into his childhood years, a musical number quickly commences as all Elton’s/Reginald’s Middlesex neighbours dance and sing in the streets. Later, ‘Saturday Night's Allright’ is performed throughout a long shot following him as a child performing in a bar to a fairground scene at which point he’s entered adulthood. Later, the ecstasy of his early relationship with manager John Reid (Richard Madden) is depicted via a collage of colour, clothing, cars and luxury. One jumps from one scene to another in elation and fascination. This isn’t just another ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (which Dexter Fletcher directed last, taking over after Bryan Singer was fired).
The aesthetic of Fletcher’s film is something groundbreaking and even if it doesn’t always quite hit the mark, and can get very cheesy, you come to admire its consistency and boldness. Think less ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and more Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish’. In taking the genre of ‘musical biopic’, Fletcher effectively depicts the highs and lows of the musician that is at the film’s centre, as required of it being a biopic, while also imbuing audiences with fantasy, imagination and colour through its elaborate musical sequences, which feel like they're straight out of Hollywood's Golden Age.
You don’t need a scene to be fantastical and full of pizazz to take your breath away either. Some of the best scenes include one where Elton and Bernie (Jamie Bell) meet for the first time and start a singsong in a café. The scene in which Elton comes up with ‘Your Song’ gives you goosebumps. This is of course largely thanks to the fabulous cast. Egerton is extraordinary as Elton, delivering the vitality, vulnerability, determination, hopefulness, extravagance and hysteria of the music legend as the story requires it. And the guy has some set of lungs. Bell as Bernie is another inspired casting choice. Bryce Dallas Howard can do bullish, cruel women expertly (as seen in 'The Help'), and she unleashes hell as Elton’s mother, Sheila Eileen.
The hair, makeup and costume design of ‘Rocketman’ are all excellent too but more importantly, it really captures the humanity and touching nature of Elton’s music which is, after all, why the film exists in the first place. Another basis on which it deserves credit is for not shying away from the darker stages of Elton’s life. Often with musicals, the downward spiral comes and goes in a flash to get back to cheerier periods and numbers. Here, the bad times come gradually and aren’t shaken off over the course of one redemptive belter of a song. Moreover, both the high and low points are in keeping with Fletcher’s aesthetic which, again, can raise an eyebrow, but for this reviewer, it works excellently.