Musical biopics… we know them. Sometimes we love them. Last year, Bohemian Rhapsody stream-rolled its way through not only the box office but also awards season, surprising everyone as it continued picking up speed. So, when it was announced Elton John had a musical biopic coming out, the news bled into the entertainment news ether with a bit of a “meh”. How would the iconic musician’s story translate? How would any actor fill those iconic platform shoes? Well, it’s out, and here’s everything you need to know before checking out Rocketman.
Rocketman is a musical based on the life of musical legend Sir. Elton John (Taron Egerton), tracing his childhood in post-WWII England, through the span of his musical popularity around the world. Unlike other movies of this sort, nothing is left out: drugs, alcoholism, eating disorders. In fact, John lays it out in the opening scene, and is fully aware of his demons. Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard co-star. Dexter Fletcher directs the film from a script by Lee Hall.
Actor Taron Egerton finds himself with the terrifying and equally daunting task of playing the universally iconic, delightful and legendary musician. The young actor is best known to audiences for his portrayal of Eggsy in the popular Kingsman franchise. To make things just a bit more challenging, Egerton tackles all the singing himself, rather than leaning on the security of lip-synching. This could so easily be a disaster in the making. Fear not, Elton John fans! Egerton steps out in front of the film, making the absolute most of a truly star-making part. From the opening frames as he enters, clad in a traditionally out-there Elton John costume, Egerton absolutely smashes the role.
As the movie plays out, Egerton brings everything he can to the screen. The actor easily takes on the richly complicated Elton John persona (the musician is an executive producer on the film), tackling not only the drug use, but his struggles with his homosexuality and even his stage fright. Elton John is a truly complex figure, and Egerton brings all of these layers to the character in full force. He shines in the stage moments, fully capturing (and mastering) the challenging performance style in the exuberant “Crocodile Rock”; however, he’s equally good in the tender and painful moments as he struggles with how to tell his mother (Howard) about his homosexuality.
Rocketman separates itself from other rock-and-roll biopics and truly drops the mic thanks to its grasp of a finely tuned aesthetic. Director Dexter Fletcher melds well with his creative team, turning the movie into a full film musical. Instead of incorporating John’s varied songwriting catalog (with lyricist Bernie Taupin) in as simple concert performances or recordings, they are staged as fully choreographed music numbers. Songs like “Honky Cat” and “Rocketman” are not only visually absorbing, catchy and well-choreographed, but also move the plot forward. As it plays out, Rocketman feels like the closest thing the movie industry has seen to a classic Hollywood musical in a long time, and it’s a truly welcomed sight.
Meanwhile, the film makes a savvy use of actor Richard Madden as John’s boyfriend turned manager John Reid. Audiences are probably most familiar with the young Scottish actor as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones or as Prince Charming in Disney’s live-action Cinderella remake. Madden brings a very sweet, almost noble persona to each and every role he tackles. As such, audience expectations are pulled along with Elton’s as meets the seemingly sweet and somewhat repressed Reid. With Madden in the role, you can’t help but like him.The audience is pulled along through John’s denial and heartbreak as the character arch speeds to its inevitable evolution. This is a musical biopic after all.
In his script, Lee Hall takes what could be a basic rock and roll biopic and crafts a powerful narrative. The story hits all the right notes in its overarching theme about loving yourself, just the way you are. If Elton John’s career can be viewed through a lens, it is this one. In a show business industry which often values a finely crafted facade in the interest of gaining as many likes as possible, John remains unabashedly himself. This may have not always been the easiest thing, but all the elements meld together to tell a heart-lifting story.
Speaking from a musical perspective, Rocketman will most certainly hit higher notes for fans of Elton John. Writing honestly, I’m not a fan of Elton John’s music. I love some of his songs, but am in no way well-versed. However, I still found myself captivated by the heartfelt passion in the construction and the love which shines through Egerton’s performance. That being said, fans of Elton John should definitely check out Rocketman.
In the musical biopic of Elton John, Rocketman drops the cinematic microphone… hard. Combining solid direction with a star-making performance from lead actor Taron Egerton, the movie is a diamond in the rough. The musical is a must-see for Elton John’s fans, but the heartfelt story makes it a delight for musical fans alike.
Rocketman opens today in theaters around the county.