Review: Rocketman

Rocketman isn’t just a biopic about Reginald Dwight aka Sir Elton Hercules John, it’s a musical reenactment of the formative years of his life and career as a musician.

Kingman’s Taron Egerton stars as Elton John. The story opens with Elton’s early years as a child, and then transitions into his early adulthood as a musician. Once Elton meets his longtime collaborator Bernie  Taupin (Jamie Bell), the story launches into Elton’s career and his meteoric rise to fame.

Like most biopics, Elton’s reckless rock star lifestyle – sex, drugs, and bad relationships –  is on full display. Most of it is focused on Elton’s relationship with his manager John Reid (Richard Madden) and their tension filled relationship.

The film is much more than a story about a man, his music, and his demons. At its core, Rocketman is a film about a man in search of love. A man learning to be comfortable with himself and attracting the love he deserves. From his early years as a child, Elton wanted love from his father and he never got it. This story follows Elton’s journey as he longs to be loved through most of his career and adult life.

Director Dexter Fletcher does an incredible job with the musical pieces. A lot of the sequences transition from Elton performing on stage, to a full musical theater performance, to a fantasy/dreamlike sequence where characters sing and dance through various set pieces. When Elton sings Crocodile Rock during his first U.S show, the performance has a dreamlike feel that captures what that moment must’ve been like for Elton. Fletcher uses a very artistic way to show Elton when he was too drunk or high to know what was going on – after a performance, Fletcher abruptly cuts to a new scene were neither Elton or the audience knows where he is or what’s going on. It’s reminiscent of how Christopher Nolan depicted Leonard’s memory loss in 2000’s Mememto.

Taron Egerton steals the show as Elton John. Playing Elton was a tall task for anyone brave enough to step into the role. Egerton owns the role from start to finish. He beautifully captures the relentless force-of-nature that is Elton John. Not only does Egerton sing an array of iconic songs, he dances, and delivers some very heavy emotional moments – most notably when Elton visits his father during the 2nd act. Audiences will be blown away with how talented Egerton is. He’s cemented himself in the Best Actor conversation during award season with this breakout performance.

Stephen Graham gives a hilarious performance as the foul-mouthed Dick James while Jamie Bell gives a great performance as Bernie Taupin and carries some of the film’s emotional scenes along with Egerton. Tate Donovan as Doug Weston is a delight and he needed more screen time. Richard Madden gives the best supporting performance as John Reid. Madden’s ability to make Reid an unlikable character despite having very few lines is what makes him an incredible actor. Everything Reid says is meant to cut Elton. Madden delivers those lines with sniper-like precision. It’s one of those performances you love to hate.

Rocketman doesn’t shy away from Elton’s homosexuality and how it impacted his career and relationships. His sexuality is never the focus of the film, but the script does a good  job of highlighting the ways it effected him throughout his career.

There’s an amazing 10 minute stretch that includes a party sequence where things spiral out of control, a dreamy rendition of Rocketman, a ballet style dance sequence, and it ends with a musical number at a piano. Fletcher brilliantly wraps four different styles of  film into one scene – it’s a masterclass in how to make a musical.

For fans of Elton’s music, there are great performances of Crocodile Rock, Tiny Dancer, Honky Cat, Rocketman, and I’m Still Standing. It’s almost impossible to not sing along.

Rocketman is a love letter to Elton John. It’s also a story about love that’s sprinkled with Elton John songs – it’s a true musical. Taron Egerton leaves everything on the screen and delivers a performance people will be talking about for a long time.

Grade: B+