Rocketman is the story of famed British rocker Elton John (Taron Egerton). Using a blend of fact and fantasy, the film chronicles John’s childhood, rise to fame, and personal struggles. The pivotal moments in John’s life are accentuated through his music, implying that certain events served as the inspiration for his songs while also using them as a part of the narrative. In this way, Rocketman is a combination cinematic biography and traditional musical.
What works in Rocketman is Egerton and the unadulterated honesty of the material. As John, Egerton is a revelation giving career-best performance that is dynamic, magnetic, and tragic. Wisely, Egerton never ever mimics Elton’s voice, but he embodies the spirit, passion, and sadness of the performer with incredible nuance in both the singing and dialogue. During intimate moments, John is portrayed as tender and even somewhat timid—and then often within the same scene he “turns on” his stage persona to become the beloved entertainer. The grace with which Egerton handles this could very easily garner him a deserved Best Actor nomination.
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Director Dexter Fletcher (Bohemian Rhapsody, sort of) is no stranger to musical biopics, but Rocketman does something rather special in giving viewers a comprehensive and raw look at its subject. This Elton John is mean, harsh, and makes no apologies or excuses for his bad decisions. He is a gifted human, full stop. Removing the typically applied rose-colored lens is incredibly refreshing and the thanks goes to both Fletcher and the real Elton John (who heavily consulted on the film) which is why the end product feels so real. Too often films in this genre try to present revisionist history, either to unnaturally preserve a person’s image, or to add dramatic tension. In avoiding this, Rocketman sets itself apart from contemporaries.
While Rocketman defines itself through style, to some its cadence may feel too familiar and its tone too off-putting. The typical narrative beats found in the majority of biographies focused on musicians is very much represented here: young adversity, catapult to stardom, fall from grace, and self-redemption. Those tired of this structure may not find enough new in Rocketman. Furthermore, the way John is presented may simply be too distressing for fans—this is an R-rated film (atypical for the genre), and it is leveraged to showcase the darker sides of this man. Honest or not, this may prove less enjoyable for those who do not wish to engage with their idol in this way.
Rocketman is unique in that it blends insight into a truly remarkable individual with entertainment through both artistic flair and tight execution. While the material gets heavy, for even passing fans of Elton John, this is a must-watch film. If voters can remember Rocketman come awards season, look for this to be a serious contender.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Bohemian Rhapsody, La La Land, Walk the Line