‘Rocketman’ Review: Elton John Biopic Is a Cheesy Jukebox Musical


Cannes: Better than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” however Dexter Fletcher’s exuberant tribute is usually a colourful vessel for best hits.

Elton John’s story is many issues — the travails of repressed sexual identification and habit, the corrosive impact of superstar on expertise, and the capability for one of many best songwriters in historical past to beat all of it and grow to be his one true self. But in “Rocketman,” it’s a dense jukebox musical variation on “A Christmas Carol,” with John touring via the bumpier chapters of his life to understand how he acquired right here.

Above all, it’s a snazzy, overproduced vessel for the songs, as Taron Egerton offers the karaoke efficiency of his life in a adequate impersonation of a very acquainted face. Rather than revealing a lot in regards to the man behind the music, “Rocketman” appears extra content material to hover within it, exploring his distinctive synthesis of blues, rock, and each different related style as a pure extension of his character.

No shock right here: Director Dexter Fletcher layers on the molten cheese with this colourful assemblage of 20 John songs constructed round key moments in his life, presenting the template for a blockbuster Broadway musical in music-video kind. There’s nothing surprising or daring about the way in which “Rocketman” consolidates the numerous chapters of John’s life into an elaborate mixture of melodramatic battle and exuberant numbers, however generations of followers would anticipate nothing much less. “Rocketman” goals to please.

As the film opens, Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall envision a drug-addled John in 1990 as his personal variation on Ebenezer Scrooge, haunted by the ghost of Christmas previous within the former of his childhood self. Bursting into an habit help group buried in a purple sequined jacket and angel wings, he’s reticent to share his intimate historical past till he sees a younger boy throughout the room — Reggie, the puny adolescent from Middlesex who would later change his identify to Elton. As the child begins singing the lyrics to “The Bitch is Back,” John follows him into the previous, and the dancers are available. It’s an outwardly foolish proposition that establishes the film’s M.O. because it careens via John’s life by utilizing his music as autobiography.

“Rocketman” commences with a campy method to commenting on every section of John’s life. Is there a blunter instrument than John’s father (Steven Makintosh) berating his poor son for his artistic pursuits whereas the kid belts out “I want love, but it’s impossible”? Elsewhere, it assembles the cinematic equal of scanning the singer’s Wikipedia web page: In the workplace of future lover and supervisor John Reid (a assured Richard Madden), John conceives of his fabricated final identify after glancing at a picture of The Beatles, and the music swells. When Reid fingers John a envelope containing lyrics by Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), the author who would grow to be John’s collaborator for many years, the soundtrack chimes in as soon as extra.

While “Rocketman” doesn’t skimp on illustrating accomplishments, it usually overstates them. The film’s most interesting scene finds Egerton nailing each notice as he performs “Your Song” to giddy producers. It requires no fancy narrative trickery, other than the capability for the actor to ship a credible impersonation, and it stands out in a sea of exuberance. The spectacle is enjoyable and tiring in equal measures, nevertheless it has the impact of creating extra grounded moments look awfully tame, like watching bland dramaturgy shoehorned into a live performance with the best hits.

Some snazzy musical renditions work higher than others, however with 20 musical performances they usually overwhelm narrative. Terrified to sing “Crocodile Rock” on the Troubadour in a crowd that features members of the Beach Boys — the timeline’s off, as John wrote the tune two years after the scene takes place, however “Rocketman” is a fantasy anyway — John finally kills it, hurtling his physique into the air as he fingers keep on the keys, and the viewers floats up with him. Later, he roams a occasion singing “Tiny Dancer” whereas gazing into the digicam, tosses himself into a pool, and belts out the title tune beneath the waves. Viewed as discrete sequences, they illustrate the music’s vibrant qualities — however don’t essentially create a compelling complete.

Fortunately, “Rocketman” doesn’t fall into the identical entice as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which lowered the singer’s homosexuality to a punchline. John’s character involves phrases along with his same-sex attraction early on, a minimum of offstage, via his alternately thrilling and messy love affair with Reid. Their passionate intercourse scene isn’t graphic, however seeing because it’s set to “Take Me to the Pilot,” it’s not precisely restrained, both.

Of course, it doesn’t take a lot to surpass “Bohemian Rhapsody” within the biopic division, and if that’s the metric for measuring the success of “Rocketman,” then it soars into the stratosphere. Egerton sometimes veers into a goofy caricature simply a few shades shy of Austin Powers, however principally he’s a stable vessel for pairing John’s giddy power with the melancholy hidden behind these tinted shades. Hall’s script doesn’t supply a lot of insights, although it permits Egerton to point out the singer coming to phrases along with his flaws in ways in which his standard picture by no means counsel (and popping out prematurely of John’s fall memoir, “Rocketman” will get to scoop the actual deal). “I started acting like a cunt in 1975,” John says. “I just forgot to stop.”

But such candid observations are marginal in comparison with the overwhelming visible tapestries cast from John’s cultural achievements. The film closes with the singer’s sunny beachside “I’m Still Standing” video, as soon as once more permitting the lyrics to inform the story. Fletcher throws a lot filmmaking trickery on the display that he usually buries the chance to evaluate the singer’s creativity outdoors of its historic baggage. But when “Rocketman” stays on the floor, it’s virtually at all times salvaged by the music. It’s not the warts-and-all chronicle that advertising hype may counsel, nevertheless it offers sufficient area to let John’s artwork communicate for itself.

Grade: B-

“Rocketman” premiered out of competitors on the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Paramount releases it on May 29, 2019.

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