In Rocketman, actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher takes an ambitious script by Lee Hall and develops it into a truly special, semi-biographical story of glam rock legend Elton John’s life from his first moments in front of a piano to his resurgence in the mid-1980s.
Reginald Dwight (Taron Egerton) is a quiet British child who craves the love of his father, a stern man who never manages to make an emotional connection with his child. Instead, Reg finds his way to the family piano, where he displays an uncanny aptitude for musical mimicry that leads him to a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. From there, he lands gigs as a barroom pianist, then in his own band, but a chance meeting with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) eventually leads him to the rock superstardom and flamboyant stage presence for which he is known to this day.
The opening scene sets the pace for the film, letting the audience know that this is not going to be any ordinary biopic. Indeed, the film is more of a musical extravaganza with some biography folded into it – parts of which deviate in varying degrees from what we have been told before about the international superstar. Still, it is deeply entertaining.
The script takes what initially seems to be a meandering course, often including songs that appear at first to be unrelated to the period in the man’s life that is portrayed. One soon realizes that, lyrically, they are closer to what he is experiencing in those moments than the songs released at the time. There is a distinct focus on the negative events over the positive, but it all leads to the well-publicized fall and phoenix-like return of the legend.
Fletcher’s direction, like the life of Elton John himself at the time, is often a controlled frenzy that just happens to work. The surrealistic musical numbers are a delightful highlight of the film – mad, frenzied, and completely enthralling moments. Much of the rest of the film is like a walk through both John’s history and moods. Dark at times, shining at others, with a distinct focus on what really matters.
Most of the actors are sufficient in their roles, but both Egerton and Bell stand out, the former for his ability to portray the highs and lows, as well as the overall mania of the songwriter, and the latter for his near-perfect entry as the subdued, quiet, and thoughtful lyricist. Bryce Dallas Howard’s skillful portrayal of Elton John’s mother is captivating.
Technically, the cinematography is outstanding, particularly in the brilliantly choreographed song and dance numbers. The music fits the mood and the moment throughout, despite frequently not fitting the time period. Even the sets draw viewers into feeling like they are going back in time, much more so than most modern period pieces.
Rocketman isn’t going to be everyone’s perfect cup of tea, particularly for those who want a more straightforward biography. However, anyone who can set aside that expectation can anticipate flying as high as a kite by the film’s end.