On paper, a biographical jukebox musical fantasy inspired by the life of Elton John, set to the man's catalogue of Rock classics and produced by him comes across as so laughably shallow and narcissistic that it would sound more at home on some sort of mediocre unaired episode of “Glee” that never completed production.
In stark contrast to most films carrying the conceit of biopics,"Rocketman" isn't merely in total compliance with the estate of its subject matter but is flat out funded and commissioned by it and while a cheeky speck of narcissism can't quite be overlooked, the movie miraculously manages to side step the hollowness of these sort of self-celebratory jukebox musicals to actually move and entertain in capacities that don't quite break the mold for music biopics but definitely lands a cut above the average example.
Framed in the form of flashbacks driven by therapeutic confessions in an alcoholic's anonymous meeting, Taron Egerton portrays Elton John, recounting his childhood days of emotional neglect and occasional narcissistic abuse as Reginald Dwight before discovering his natural musical talents and ultimately making a name for himself, both figuratively and literally, as Elton John, grappling with unchecked demons that have driven him to the point of seeking the help that he is currently after.
While "Rocketman" makes a noteworthy element to shake up some aspects of the musician biopic formula in the form of its framing device that sees John and his audience of fellow addicts and counselors regularly interjecting and interfacing with the narratives that he weaves as a result of addressing his personal failings at the height of his career ahead of establishing his arc within coverage of his origins, the beats of rise to success from humble beginnings, downfall driven by manifesting emotional struggles, and the usual tropes at play are all there unabashedly.
The film definitely doesn't make a concerted effort to be structurally unique but ultimately shines through director Dexter Fletcher's eye for magical realism that plays into its subject matter's flamboyant personality to present a flashy and extravagant production of a life story that feels less like a vanity project and more like an honest and personal self reflection in a language its author knows best.
Given John's astonishing discography, it would be easy to just let his greatest hits run like a playlist but the film actually takes thorough advantage of their personal relationship to him and his life, infusing every lively number, choreographed to near perfection, with a solid emotional weight that goes beyond their infectious stage-like theatricality and party atmospheric nature.
Recontextualizing "The Bitch is Back" to grapple with emotional whiplashing of his mother's callus presence, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" as a rip-roaring, semi-rebellious, revelry of John's self discovery of his love of rock and roll spirit, and "Rocketman's" tragic underpinnings of his never ending pursuit of substance high to satisfy his longing for a healthy and loving relationship in the face of increasingly apparent self loathing are as fun revel in as they are relatable, emotional, and narratively compelling in a manner that successfully avoids the pitfalls of musicals that struggle to direct narrative or emotion within their numbers and biopics that try to meaninglessly ride their iconography's body of work.
Fletcher's approach may be mildly unorthodox but it's successful ability to utilize every element of its production to carve out a proper story arc is just about everything that I failed to get out of "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Egerton doesn't merely embody Elton John but becomes him on and off stage, selling the transformation of a young man struggling to overcome stage fright and performance anxiety through a flamboyant self destructive persona in a way that is not only compelling but surprisingly doesn't allow the indulgent nature of the production to exonerate him of his flaws as he struggles to find a common denominator between the problems threatening to destroy his life and the trauma's that inform his poor decision making.
This tempering of the bias at play helps the already fantastic supporting cast shine in their roles even brighter, with a surprisingly compassionate performance from Jamie Bell to Richard Madden's charismatic but coldly pragmatic take on John's former manager and lover.
"Rocketman" revels in being the best possible crowdpleaser of its kind possible but rather than use things that make it a crowd pleaser as an excuse to skimp out on strong filmmaking and storytelling, it builds its foundations around it to weave a meaty tale of upholding accountability, acceptance of past transgressions and forgiveness that just so happens to also be a killer musical.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.