Thu, 06 Jun 2019
Running time 2hr 1min
IF you liked Bohemian Rhapsody, you’ll love Rocketman.
There’s more than a passing resemblance between the Oscar-bait Freddie Mercury biopic and this new flick, a chronicle of the wild times of Elton John – both are directed by Brit filmmaker Dexter Fletcher, both are by-numbers docudramas and both were constructed with heavy oversight from their subjects (in Rhapsody’s case, from the living members of Queen; here, from Sir Elton himself, who gets a producer credit). In fact, many of the same creative disputes that dogged the Mercury movie hampered Rocketman, a project decades in the making, yet it emerges from this ordeal a rather superior film. That’s due not only to its franker treatment of its central life (the 15 certificate allows Fletcher to illuminate the Pinball Wizard’s sordid side), but also to a pronounced wacky streak which does justice to the main man’s legacy in a way the agonisingly by-numbers Rhapsody could not.
Elton John’s long, prolific career would seem one tailor-made fora pick-and-choose approach – Rocketman could have focused
exclusively his sleazoid early-70s heyday or on his tortuous rise to the top (à la England is Mine, the giddily offbeat Morrissey biopic). But Fletcher’s epic documentarianism is equalled only in its sheer scope and insatiability – if this film is any authority – by the young Elton’s appetite for cocaine and promiscuous sex. All bases are covered over the course of Rocketman’s two-hour runtime – the highs, the lows, the fabulous outfits and the immortal tunes. Indeed, the latter are magisterially realised; in one sequence, an entire concert literally takes flight, while another finds John hammering out a musical number underwater.
It’s a fantastical vision that has certain echoes of the 2007 Bob Dylan dreamscape I’m Not There, and is all grounded by an electric central performance from Taron Egerton. Mesmerising as the transition was in practice, it wasn’t especially difficult to envisage Rami Malek slipping into Freddie Mercury’s sneakers – the former has honed his reputation as a Jake Gyllenhaal-type oddball, and he effortlessly channelled this persona in his portrait of the gawky frontman. Egerton – a laddish, straightforwardly macho (and avowedly straight) screen presence – makes for no such easy fit; his is more a highly
competent imitation of John than a full-blown metamorphosis, but it works on its own terms, with the star revealing himself to be a highly underrated dramatic performer.
It’s a great shame that cinema has yet to reach maturity in its depiction of LGBTQ relationships and Rocketman is refreshing for its efforts to address John’s sexuality with little of the clumsiness, moralism or outright neuroticism that has bedevilled pictures of its ilk. This isn’t, however, merely a film about a gay icon – it’s a genuinely poignant (if frequently formulaic) story about a shy young man endeavouring to find his place in the world. He strives to find it in outlandish costumes, in hard drugs and in a noxious relationship with manager John Reid (Richard Madden, on darkly sexy form).There’s also an interlude dealing with Elton’s misjudged marriage to Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker); while brief, it leaves quite a bit more of an emotional mark than a similar section in Bohemian Rhapsody, making effective use of the musical medium. It cannot be overstated that this is a forthrightly mainstream film, something for adults and older teens to regale themselves with while on a pizza-fuelled night out. Yet it’s audacious, energetic and packed with flashes of grit and
inspiration – far better, in other words, than any ‘official’ biopic has a right to be.