Rocketman was billed as “A True Musical Fantasy” in all of it’s marketing. What was not highlighted nearly enough in that was musical. I went in expecting a rock and roll bio pic, in the vein of Ray and Walk The Line and yes, Bohemian Rhapsody. I think most people did.
Rocketman isn’t a rock and roll biopic. Well, technically it is. But it’s mostly a musical. Like a real deal, the characters can’t contain their emotions with dialog so they burst into song musical. It’s a musical that tells the life story of Elton John (well, the first half) with his songs, which is why it’s gotten miscategorized, but from about two minutes in, wehn Elton, in full devil drag, sits in a rehab circle and begins talking about his life, he visualizes preteen Reggie Dwight, and adult Elton and Young Reggie go through a verse of “The Bitch Is Back,” to introduce the stifling middle class suburb where he grew up, I realized, “Ohhhh, this is different.”
It’s different in a way that’s pretty well attuned to my taste. I’m a big Elton John fan, and even at their hackiest I love a rock bio (I think it comes from all those lazy Saturday mornings watching Behind The Music on VH1.) and I of course love musicals. (There were a couple of moments, especially the “Benny And Jets” orgy sequence where I was having trouble not thinking of the Fosse of it all.)
Rocketman is flawed, but even it’s flaws are hugely entertaining. Taran Edgerton is perfect, taking John from a wide eyed wunderkind to a sneering petulant spiraling superstar. It’s a powerhouse performance fueled less by physical resemblance than vocal and pure energy. Richard Madden plays John Reid as a kind of swoony devil on John’s shoulder, but it’s also great, because who could say no to anything let alone rock star decadence, when you have Richard Madden making bedroom eyes at you? (Also, it’s weird that Reid has been played on screen by both Petyr Baelish and Robb Stark in the past 2 years, yeah?) If Reid is John’s devil, then the movie casts Bernie Taupin as the voice of his better angels. Jamie Bell makes Taupin a stalwart figure, really the embodiment of the cinematic cowboys he idolized. It’s telling that the script has Bernie code switch between calling his friend “Reg” and “Elton,” and is the only one to do so. (He’s Reggie to his family for the most part, and Elton to Reid.)
The music numbers really make the whole thing worthwhile. “Honky Cat,” was probably my favorite, for it’s sheer MGM Musical on cocaine audacity, though I mentioned the Fosse feeling of “Benny And The Jets,” and Bernie finally walking away to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” is prettily done as well. I’m listening through the soundtrack now, and I’m not sure many of them work as standalone covers, but that’s not the point. (Also the only bio-pic soundtrack versions that I think do are Walk The Line, because Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were doing something very specific vocally there.)
Memory is also a major theme in this movie, and frankly I could write a whole other review just about the ways it deals with memory. I’m going to be thinking about and talking about this movie a lot I think.
- Avengers: Endgame
- Detective Pikachu
21 Bridges: This movie looks so dumb. If I still had cable I’d probably watch it 1000 times on TNT or whatever.
MIB International: SO SOON.
Yesterday: I can’t wait for this. It really does look wholly delightful.
Downton Abbey: SADHFUIFSHGNIRNBHIVNHGIDLSJLFGHIUFHGNRFJNRI. I am so excited for Downton Abbey. It’s embarrassing. No one should be this excited for the fucking Downton Abbey movie, but I AM. I can live with a disappointing GOT finale, I’ll even survive if The Rise Of Skywalker flounders but if Downton Abbey isn’t FAN FREAKING TASTIC, I will be quite put out, and I may even go to the garden to cry silently and miss the dressing gong.