Rocketman (2019): A Fantastical and Underrated Musical
Around the same time Bohemian Rhapsody was announced as a musical biopic for the band Queen, it was revealed that an Elton John biopic was going to be released. While Bohemian Rhapsody was successful, many felt cheapened by how sanitized the film was. But where the Queen biopic crashed and burned, Rocketman soared, making this a musical event of the 2010s.
As a kid, Reginald Dwight was a musical prodigy with a tough home life. As he grew older and his talents improved, he became the legendary rockstar Elton John (played by Taron Egerton). With the help of his writing partner and best friend Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell), they write the classics we all know and love. As John’s fame increases, so does his love for his cockroach manager John Reid (played by Richard Madden) and he begins to suffer personally. Retelling his life story, we see the fantastical tale that was Elton John’s life from childhood to rehab.
Rocketman more or less follows biopic stories beat for beat similarly to Bohemian Rhapsody. In fact, Rocketman director, Dexter Fletcher, actually finished up production as Bohemian Rhapsody’s uncredited director when Bryan Singer left the project. Both films follow the same exact journey of the rise to fame, struggling with sexuality, abusive relationships, and above all loneliness. The biggest difference between the two is that Rocketman pulls no punches in creating Elton John and his journey, making it both emotional and uplifting. Bohemian Rhapsody always felt like it was holding back, especially given its PG-13 rating to appeal to a wider audience, while Rocketman was given a hard R rating.
Speaking of Rocketman’s themes, its journey of both self-acceptance and love are front and center, making for a relatable viewing experience, especially if one ever struggled with coming to terms with their sexuality. It also dives deep into John’s loneliness as his fame grew, which combined with his addiction and anger management, he became quite a tragic individual. This makes it more uplifting when he finds his self-acceptance/love as he finally is able to come to terms with what he wants out of life. The Oscar winning original song “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” closes it out beautifully, which also happens to be written by none other than Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Taron Egerton as Elton John is pitch perfect casting, similar to that of Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Egerton portrays Elton with humanity and a sense of self-loathing very few can pull off. Not only does his performance elevate the musical to the same level of Tick, Tick…BOOM, but it also challenges the other actors to raise their game, such as with Jamie Bell’s friendly Bernie and Richard Madden’s slimy John Reid. I also have to address Bryce Dallas Howard’s short and amazingly hateable performance as Elton John’s mother, bringing out all the negative qualities Elton’s mother projected throughout the film. Side note: Taron Egerton was snubbed at the Oscars.
This being a musical and all, especially an Elton John musical, song choice would make or break the movie experience. Somehow, they managed to pick excellent songs and pepper them throughout to benefit the plot and pacing. Such as starting off the musical with “The Bitch Gets Back” which perfectly sets the tone and pace. Use of “Tiny Dancer”, “Rocketman”, and “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road” as emotional stepping stones to help emote Elton’s loneliness and new beginning toward the end. And of course ending with the triumphant “I’m Still Standing” to perfectly close the curtain.
Rocketman is by far the better musical biopic compared to Bohemian Rhapsody and continued the ongoing trend of musical biopics of legendary artists, which continues with films like Elvis and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Taron Egerton is a true star with his depiction of Elton John and really earned the Best Actor award at the 2020 Golden Globes. The songs are chosen wisely and are placed in excellent spots throughout the plot, and the filmmaker remains unflinching with their takes on addiction, abuse, and loneliness. Even though these are heartbreaking to watch, the viewing experience becomes more uplifting as we reach the end of John’s journey. If you haven’t seen Rocketman, check it out for its thorough entertainment value and beautiful story.