Rocketman (2019)

by The Movie Diorama

Rocketman is no Tiny Dancer but isn’t exactly Still Standing. And I think it’s going to be a long, long time before these crowdpleasers fill my soul with pure enjoyment. Very similar to last year’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, I find myself in the internal battle for conforming to an opinion that readers will appreciate but understand, or give it that elusive perfect rating because it’s “enjoyable” to the point that flaws are ignored. I mean, this is coming from an individual who isn’t particularly enamoured by Elton John or musicals for that matter. Sorry to say, and it certainly is the hardest word to say, that this musical biopic packs sequins and extravagant costumes only to follow the most uninspired clichéd narrative structure that has been recycled time and time again. Elton attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and revisits the life that he has lived, leading him to the dangers that fame andfortunes bring.

As I mentioned, I’m not a massive fan of Elton John. Mainly because I didn’t particularly grow up with his music, or was remotely interested in his personal life, however I will say the man has undeniable talent. This film depicts that wonderfully. From when he was a musical prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music to writing legendary songs with his musical partner Bernie Taupin. Hall’s screenplay, with both John and his husband Furnish overseeing the end product, captures his life and condenses it down adequately where the pivotal moments are illustrated with emotion and pride. John seemingly did not want to shy away from his downfall with drugs, depression and sex addiction, which makes Rocketman that instantly more personable. Over half of the film’s runtime tackles his succumbing to depression, and is more often that not heartbreaking to watch. Don’t go breaking my heart, Elton!

Fortunately Fletcher keeps the tone light by integrating fantastical musical numbers that depict Taupin’s lyrics and reflects them through John’s life. “I’m Still Standing” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” being the most notable examples. Ridiculous show stopping costumes, packed with all of John’s razzle dazzle, allow for these musical numbers to glow and illuminate the stage. These outlandish attires were effortlessly worn by Egerton, who simply gives his best performance to date. The perfect balance of emotion and character interpretation, without leading to a caricature performance. It’s obvious that Egerton looks up to John as a role model, and he did a stunning job. Heck, even his singing voice is pretty decent! Bell and Madden gave solid supporting performances, although weren’t given enough to make a lasting impression. Howard on the other hand, I felt, was miscast as John’s mother. Her American accent creeped in on occasion, and she seemed out of place considering the predominantly British cast.

However, unfortunately I come to aspect of this review that I’m sure will garner some discussions. It’s no surprise that the narrative structure for Rocketman offers the same clichés found in every other mainstream musical biopic. Start of a career, rise to fame, corruption of fame and money, near-death scenario and then the inevitable moment where the singer/songwriter turns their life around. Predictable to the very tip of the writer’s pen. And with that, there was an overbearing sense of familiarity that prevented me personally from fully enjoying this. Despite John’s melancholic depressive state, that may catch many off guard, it did feel occasionally boring. Surprisingly, with John and Furnish onboard as producers, the film wasn’t as self-indulgent as I expected.

But John’s views on his parents, accessible to us on most tabloid papers, unfortunately, taint these characters. They are written with such animosity, to the point that they become almost inhuman, preventing us from understanding their perspective on the complex childhood that John had to endure. They were one-dimensional antagonists. I’m sure they weren’t pleasant to John, but some dimensionality towards them would’ve made for understandable sympathy. The final criticism I have is with the ending. It just ends. It’s no spoiler that John eventually turns his life around. Yet as soon as he does, we are presented with typical onscreen text depicting the rest of his life. Underwhelming, I must confess.

It may sound like I’m being overly critical, but that’s only because these glaring issues are noticeable to me. You may enjoy the film better than I did, and I would not judge you for it. Elton John is undoubtedly a legend, and this subjective statement alone will attract several audiences into what is an enjoyable musical. Rocketman, unfortunately, failed to lift off for me and seemed like an exercise in therapy for Sir Elton John.