Rocketman movie review: Taron Egerton soars in the sky, explodes in all the brilliant colours of Elton John

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Rating: 3.5/5

See? As Rocketman proves, it is possible to make a biopic on one of the biggest musical stars of our generation and not mess it up to the bone. You know who I am talking about.

After brushing up Bryan Singers’ visceral mess of a movie Bohemian Rhapsody to palatable standards last year, director Dexter Fletcher is here to show the world what movies about great music, life-changing songs and haunted, inspirational artistes are supposed to be like. With Rocketman, based on the stunning art and lonely life of rockstar Elton John, Fletcher makes you even more sad that he wasn’t the one to bring Freddie Mercury’s story to the big screen as well.

Watch Rocketman trailer here:

Considering the great, unmistakable similarities between the two stars, it’s quite difficult not to compare the two movies. More so, because one has released right on the heels of another, less than six months to spare between them. These are stories of extraordinarily talented British men who struggle to keep their sexuality hidden from the world, get caught up in horrible relationships, people who take advantage of them, friends they alienate and families that never gave them hugs. But while one shies away from truth in favour of a PG 13 rating, other embraces the drugs, the booze, the orgies and the heartbreak; ticket sales be damned. This bravery in the face of capitalist greed earns Rocketman a lot more love than an Oscar nomination and a billion dollar collection.

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Fletcher brings a distinct style to his movies that should have already crowned him the master of musical biopics. The flourish, the colours, the surrealism that oozes out of the big screen every few minutes, is just what a film like this one needs to tell the story of a man who wore flaming shoes and peacock feathers to his performances. Fletcher wastes no time to set the mood for the musical flurry you are about to witness. Taron Egerton, who is unrecognisable from his gun-slinging days as the assassin in a sharp black tux from the Kingsmen movies, puts on the brightest, blingiest orange feather suit as he takes a seat at what looks like an AA meeting. “I’m an alcoholic, sex addict and probably a shopaholic,” he tells those around him, all dressed in blacks and grey, in stark contrast to his orange devil horns and pink sunglasses. But they are all equally broken, his colourful exterior is all but a lie. He starts telling his story, one heartbreaking detail and one spectacular song at a time.

From the cold silence at the dinner table to the first time he rocks a pub’s patrons’ Saturday night, all of it is told through a sombre song about an unfeeling family or a spectacle of singing, dancing and stunning long shots of men and women swinging in the streets. Not a single second is wasted away from the music. In a story like this, it would be a crime to contain the songs to a recording studio.

Elton, or Reginald Dwight as was his name once upon a long and unloving time, meets a friend that seemed to have descended straight from the heavens to bless his life. Jamie Bell, who plays lyricist Bernie Taupin, gives Elton the greatest and longest love story of his lifetime, even if it was ‘not in that way’. His mother, played by Bryce Dallas Howard is unthinkingly cruel but calling her evil would still be a stretch. Richard Madden, however, goes from Mr Darcy to Mr Domestic Abuser in the blink of an eye. He plays Elton’s lover and manager and the one true source of evil–apart from a shiny tray of cocaine–that we are supposed to channel all our hatred towards.

Taron’s performance is greatly helped by all those around him but he stands out incredibly well on his own. From the high octane flourish and pomp of his stage persona, to the broken-hearted man who has been told he would never find true love, Taron plays Elton as a star and a human being with equal sincerity. Sure, you will not see him as a spitting image of the Tiny Dancer but perhaps imitating all his quirks, his voice and his dance moves might just end up making the film look like a skit rather than a feeling, living story of a man. Taron uses his own voice for the songs, danced in a way that isn’t all too Elton John-y, but in the end, it all works to his advantage.

Rocketman works on so many accounts but to me, its most surreal bits are it’s best. We have all heard how great music can lift you up and above life and all its mess. But when Elton plays for the first time at the Troubadour, people start floating in the air, he levitates off the ground with his fingers still on the piano. It’s like adding filters to a picture of a stunning valley of mountains. A simple picture will never do justice to what your eyes have witnessed. A filter just helps you come close to the desired effect. There are more, glorious scenes like this one peppered all over the film. One shows him shoot across the sky, a literal Rocketman, high as a kite, intoxicated on a bottle’s worth of sleeping pills. Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium-washed dream that birthed Kubla Khan, John sinks deep into the blue waters of his luxurious pool, birthing the song about a man alone in space. It’s stunning, it’s depressing and it’s still so poetic.

Fletcher’s film’s only upset was the third and final act. The tensions are resolved, a life is turned around in just 10 minutes after watching it unfurl into a big giant mess for two hours. The end was shockingly abrupt and you might just end up feeling like they ran out of the video reel and inserted a fun, quirky music video instead. Sure we were running back in time from the first frame itself but even that didn’t ease the abruptness of that ending.

But at the end of the day, Rocketman successfully tells the story of a man who didn’t have it easy in life, unlike what his mother might say. From his sex addiction to his drug addiction, the film swims long and hard in all that many would dream too controversial, rather than simply touch bases. It’s a daring film about a ‘introverted extrovert’. And I hope it won’t be a long, long time till we get another like it.

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First Published:
May 31, 2019 16:17 IST

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