Right after the last year’s disappointing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, another musical biopic was announced. Looking solely at the promos of the new ‘Rocketman’, it appeared to be just another candy-flossed, colorful film that the studios would insist to make in order to ensure a blockbuster. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being flashy or colorful if it serves a purpose. With the Freddie Mercury biopic, the makers tried to convey the homosexuality of one of its leading icons from the 20th century. Instead, they often shied away or rather represented his sexuality in a bad light, showing as a part of his weakness.
Not a likely case with Rocketman, where the man himself- Elton John, insisted on showing the explicit parts of his own life and never bothered whether it will get the R-rating. “I just haven’t lived a PG-13 rated life”, he said in one of the interviews. The film is clearly aware of the person it is representing and the way it needs to be narrated. Moreover, it’s great that the rocker is alive, to have control in what is being shown. So, self-indulgence is a virtue in this case where normal conversation bursts into a splashy song-and-dance sequence out-of-nowhere and tells his life as he led it in reality.
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The film is set in the form of introspection, where the older Elton John enters a room with his flamboyant get-up. Perhaps, that’s the version of him who needed introspection; which is why the outlandish get-up in an A.A. meeting doesn’t seem too absurd as we move along. After his confessional statement, he begins with narrating his life-story from the very beginning, where we enter a general dysfunctional family-trope and see it through his perspective. We see the story from a time where he was still called Reginald Dwight.
His father was a flight lieutenant who had a keen interest in rather bourgeois styles of music. His mother, who hardly got along with her spouse, was always trying to seek affection under the zeal of being outspoken. Their marriage, which was doomed to fail, had a deep impact on Reginald’s mind. As a result, he often shied from sharing his genuine interests and stayed introverted for the time being. Later, when he was allowed to make choices the way he wanted, his journey began towards being a rock-and-roll star that he eventually becomes. The piano-teachings from the Royal Academy of Music didn’t seem to engage him anymore. “You gotta kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be”, one of the leading singers says to him. The rest of Reggie’s journey was to find his own voice.
Elton Hercules John, as he soon started to call himself; didn’t have a talent for writing lyrics even if he could come up with tunes within a few moments. That’s how he met his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin who wrote lyrics for many of his iconic songs. The piano-prodigy later came across John Reid whom he shared an intimate relationship with, turned out to be pivotal in his life. Reid, who managed him for a while, had an impact over his career just like his mother did. So, all of them were mere sources for him to seek love just like her. Even the mother proclaimed how Reggie would remain heartbroken for the rest of his life if he continued living like that.
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The film touches much of these relationships in the context of how they affected the self-discovery of this singer. Never does it try to sugar-coat it to put its protagonist in high regard. Rather, it voyages through his understanding as a troubled and self-destructive individual, who knew no other way to live. Moreover, it seamlessly transitions from fantasy to reality, from him singing Rocketman to actually experiencing it. It’s a sheer thrill to experience on the big screen.
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Taron Egerton, who leads the film, surpasses the expectations to be one of the strongest acting contenders from this year. Just look at a long-sequence from the film where the camera slowly pulls in while he’s trying to come up with words to convey to his mother that he’s homosexual. Even a single flick of his eye conveyed so much in this deliberately frozen take. It was apparent from the Kingsman sequel that he has the required charisma. But he comes up with such genuity even in the moments where the dialogues are not enough. He’s magnificent in his role, especially considering he also did his own singing for the role.
Apart from him, Dexter Flecher is a star here whose assured direction never lets any moment settle or seem bland. It requires skills to keep us engaged emotionally throughout this rollercoaster of a ride. Which is why the lack of a monumental moment doesn’t particularly bother here. Elton’s life was just like the film, with the highs and lows right after one another. It hardly ever feels tiring to see even the genre-tropes, mostly because he reinvents the narration. Going back to the introspection over and over isn’t particularly a revolutionary technique. But the film perfects it to make it one’s own.
The director, who had earlier worked on the Queen biopic after the firing of Bryan Singer, has complete command over this film. If it engages a viewer like me who haven’t listened to even a single Elton John song before the film, he surely understands his duty of convincing storytelling. But perhaps that’s why I wasn’t enamored by the film as the singer’s ardent admirers would. The recurring genre tropes, no matter how perfect, might be another reason. A rewatch might help me decide whether it is genuinely that important and affecting piece of filmmaking.
Rocketman Rating: ★★★1/2
Rocketman Link – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes