Rocketman is an enjoyable, sometimes exhilarating celebration of the life and music of Elton John. Even for someone like me, who isn’t a huge John fan, it was easy to get swept up in seeing his life portrayed in such a theatrical, over the top manner. One could criticize the film for being all broad strokes and containing way too many scenes that are on-the-nose. Then again, no one ever accused Elton John of being subtle.
The film follows John’s rags to riches story. He goes from living with an unloving family to being an overnight sensation with legions of adoring fans. Troubled by unhappy relationships, and his repressed sexuality, he delves deeper and deeper into drug and alcohol abuse.
The musical numbers aren’t the studio versions you’ve heard on the radio for the past five decades. Instead, they are done like a musical, with the numbers woven into the narrative. Taron Egerton is magnetic as John. More impressive is the fact that he does his own singing. He doesn’t try to imitate John. He allows the emotion of the scene to inform his musical performance, which sometimes leads to wildly different interpretations of the songs, but that’s kind of what I liked about it. Egerton embodies John so well that you often forget you’re watching an imitator.
Director Dexter (Eddie the Eagle) Fletcher does a fine job on the musical numbers and offers us some truly surreal moments. My favorite scene is John’s first performance at The Troubadour when the power of his music literally lifts the audience off the ground. It’s touches like this that help set the film apart from so many other stale biopics.
There are times when Rocketman feels like the It’s a Small World ride set to Elton John music. Some may gripe about the frantic pacing as the narrative sometimes feels like it's rushing from one milestone to the other. However, the hectic pace highlights the fact John is often a passenger in his own story as he is perpetually imprisoned by his self-loathing, stifling relationships, and drug use. I’m sure there were more aspects of John’s later life they could’ve translated onscreen, but the film suitably ends when he is finally able to take control of his own story. There’s something touching and empowering about that.