'Rocketman': Elton John biopic soars despite cuts

  • Movie Review
  • Saturday, 27 Jul 2019

Look, Ma, I'm flying!

It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside after watching Rocketman. A few of the scenes, well, they got me quite cross. But anyway the thing is, what I really mean, these was the sweetest musical fantasy, I'd ever seen.

Based on the life of one Elton Hercules John, it follows the singer's life from a young aspiring pianist who grew up in a strict family with an absent father to one of the biggest recording artistes in the world.

Tagon Egerton plays the grown-up John, with Jamie Bell as his best friend and long-time lyricist/collaborator Bernie Taupin,

Richard Madden as his manager and one-time lover John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as his mother Sheila Eileen.

Some movies about musicians take the long and winding road to your heart, taking their time to explore the personalities of their subjects in order to show the 'real' human being behind the glitz and glamour. Others take a more, fantastical route – conjuring a fantasy around the artistes' most iconic moments, giving only tantalising glimpses of the person.

Last year's Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody managed to follow the latter formula to the tune of five Academy Awards. But Rocketman is the more effective fantasy of the two, using the music of Elton John to tell a fantastical tale that brings us down a yellow brick road and back again.

This clearly wasn't one of Elton's better stage costumes.
This clearly wasn't one of Elton's better stage costumes.

In terms of paying tribute to a legendary musician, Rocketman arguably does its job better than Bohemian Rhapsody. There are no over-dramatic scenes of John and Taupin suddenly composing a hit song out of the blue, like Queen does with We Will Rock You and Another One Bites The Dust. John's famous songwriting partnership with Taupin is the stuff of legend, and that's all we need to know.

Instead, John's songs are woven into the very fabric of the movie, used to accentuate the emotions and atmosphere of a scene rather than being the focus of it, like Bohemian Rhapsody tended to do. As a result, we get scenes like I Want Love performed by every member of young John's (played by Kit Connor) family (Howard as his mother, Sheila, Steven Mackintosh as his father, Stanley, and Gemma Jones as his nan, Ivy), giving the song a poignant meaning unique to whichever character is singing it.

Hey, who says I can't play I'm Still Standing while sitting down?
Hey, who says I can't play I'm Still Standing while I'm sitting down?

Saturday Night's Alright accompanies a dance routine during which Egerton makes his entrance as the grown-up John, Crocodile Rock is used to jazz up his electrifying debut at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles, and Pinball Wizard plays in a whirlwind scene that contrasts his flamboyant stage persona with his increasingly turbulent life and addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Still, it's the title track, Rocketman, that truly steals the show, used as it is during the scene depicting John's infamous attempted suicide. The song matches the dreamlike sequence perfectly, turning the almost fatally tragic event into a poignant reminder of just how turbulent John's life was at the time, and how much of a candle in the wind he used to be.

Looks like Luffy cleaned up real good.
Looks like Luffy cleaned up real good.

One thing that sets this movie apart from Bohemian Rhapsody, however, is the knowledge that the real Elton John is very much alive and still active in music. Despite all the anguish and pain we see him go through in the film, we find solace in the fact that we know that even after his attempted suicide, even after his spiral into addiction, his train didn't stop there.

Tragic and sad as his story may be, it's comforting to know that, despite everything he goes through in the movie, we will be able to see him, most definitely, still standing at the end.

Oh, and before you ask, the movie DOES have quite a number of cuts, especially the more graphic scenes involving sex and drugs, but for the most part, the cuts don't spoil the movie too much.

So you can tell everybody that this is truly Elton's song. It may be quite simple but, as a celebration of a man who never let the sun go down on him, Rocketman gets the job done.


Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard


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