I think it’s best to say upfront that I’m not overly familiar with the music of Elton John. I’ve heard some of his big hits, but I’ve never been really into Elton John, the same way as other musicians. That said, I was still excited for this. I’m a fan of Dexter Fletcher as a director and Taron Egerton does feel like a great choice to play Elton John. This, combined with the reports that John allowed the filmmakers to be more critical of him. The film itself I had a lot of fun with and found to be an interesting look at the life of Elton John.
The film focuses on the life of Elton John, from his youth learning to play piano at the Royal Academy of Music through his partnership with Bernie Taupin, his relationship with John Reid and him coming to terms with his sexuality, with the film being framed around John opening up in rehab for his drug addiction. Now the general tone of the film I found to be interesting. Whilst it does follow the tropes of the music biopic, there’s more of a fantasy element to the film, aided by the film being presented as a musical. There’s this stylised feel to the film that puts you into the mindset of Elton John, letting you see the world as he saw it. The film also does a good job at showing the darker side of John, making it clear how much damage he was doing to himself through his drug addiction and his relationship with John Reid, and it doesn’t shy away from showing John and Reid having sex. This is where I think the 15 certificate helps the film as it allows the film to be more explicit and true to John than a 12A certificate would have been. The depiction of John’s relationship with his parents is also interesting in showing that it was pretty messed up and it doesn’t have any easy answers for that relationship. By showing it to be more fractured and messy, and not having a clean happy ending for it, there’s a greater sense of honesty to the film.
The use of music meanwhile I thought was pretty interesting. Sure there were some predictable uses (such as how I’m Still Standing was used), but the songs did a good job at building the atmosphere of the film and I was surprised to hear Pinball Wizard used in the film (since it was originally by The Who, not Elton John who covered it for the film Tommy).
The performances meanwhile are solid across the board. Taron Egerton does a great job at playing Elton John. His singing in the part isn’t a direct impersonation of John, having the same feel but clearly also being his voice, which works for the film. He does a good job at showing the ‘introverted extrovert’ side of John along with the more unpleasant sides of John and a sense of insecurity he has. Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin is good as well, showing the creative partnership between him and John well and giving this vibe of platonic love to his performance. Richard Madden as John Reid is solid in showing the sense of support that he gave John early on in the relationship, which devolves into the drug addiction as the film goes on and there’s a sliminess to Madden’s performance that works for the film. Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila Eileen is strong, showing the love she does feel towards John, along with the darker sides to her character, although I don’t really want to reveal how they play out in the film. Solid work is also seen from Stephen Graham, Charlie Rowe and Gemma Jones, adding to the vibrancy of the film.
The technical side of the film I found to be impressive. There’s a sense that Fletcher wanted to visualise how it felt to listen to Elton John and, especially in the scenes set at the Troubador, the film succeeds. The framing of the music numbers meanwhile has this good mix of realism with more fantastical elements when necessary. The editing meanwhile I found to be pretty effective at showing the fractured mind of John when he’s in the depths of his drug addiction. There’s this sense of deliberate disorientation to the film which works in showing what it feels like to be a drug addict. The costume design meanwhile does a good job at replicating the style of John in his shows (although the symbolism of the costume he wears in rehab slowly being taken off as he opens up more is a bit too heavy handed).
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Rocketman. It does a good job at presenting the life of Elton John in a way that gave more an insight into who he was, with the more fantastical elements of the film, along with being willing to present the darker side of John, giving a more rounded understanding of the man, aided by a strong central performance from Taron Egerton.
My Rating: 4/5