A music biopic that transcends the cliches and tropes of the genre to create a unique and fulfilling film viewing experience for the audience.
Rocketman follows the life of Elton John, but it does so in a surreal and expressionistic manner that elevates the material and provides insights impossible in standard biopics. Most music biographies follow well worn territory. They trace the career of the subject from early days to big break to hit after hit after hit to drug fueled dark period to reemergence. Rocketman throws that out the window. It doesn’t bother with a hit by hit breakdown of his life. It uses Elton John’s music to inform the story rather than being the whole reason the film exists. The song Saturdays All Right For Fighting is sung by Elton as a teenager years before he actually wrote it, but this break in the chronology helps to demonstrate his life and upbringing. It enriches his story rather than just being another song on the hit parade. The movie wisely focuses on Elton’s relationships with his family, his songwriting partner, and himself as he struggles with his own identity.
The film takes wonderful leaps into expressionism. This might alienate some viewers, especially those viewers expecting a rehash of last years Bohemian Rhapsody except with Elton John tunes. This movie blasts through those expectations. It launches into surrealism in exciting and wonderfully transcendent ways. During Elton’s first big musical performance the movie drops into slow motion and Elton as well as the audience magically float off the floor elevated by the moment. It perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being at a live concert and feeling transported by the music. There’s a glorious sequence in the middle of the film in which Elton overdoses, is taken to hospital, stabilized, is stripped down by the nurses, placed into a bright sequined costume, and thrust on stage for a performance. This is all shot to create the effect of a single shot. One unbroken moment of intense insanity. It captures the stress and whirlwind feeling Elton John must have endured during this time in his life. It shows that stress better than any words or dialogue could have. It’s exhilarating to see film used this way.
The heart of the movie is Taron Egerton. He is phenomenal. He carries this movie. He pours his heart and soul into every frame of this film. He doesn’t impersonate Elton John. This is so much more than that. He delivers a fully engaged performance without worrying about hitting all the tics and tricks of mimicry. He is heartbreaking and frustrating and defiant and powerful. He rings tears and inspires. He handles the tiniest moments of feeling lost at a party with the same grace and dexterity as he handles the big flamboyant performances on stage. He does all his own singing and sincerely belongs on a stage. All the actors are fantastic, but his Elton has the weight of the film on his shoulders and he carries it effortlessly.
I loved this movie. It took me a little bit of time to adjust my expectations and grow into the films surrealist approach, but once I did it was infinitely rewarding. It’s a movie I will see again and again. It is definitely my cup of tea. – A