Rocketman is a very thorough, creative take on the musician biographical film; Elton John was in no way a conventional person, so it makes sense that a biography would need to break the barrier of what would a film like this could be. Obviously, it’s a celebration of music, and the film uses Elton’s songs to turn his life into a cosmic fantasy in which each song represents a core moment in his journey. Less focused on dates and figures as it is with the authenticity of Elton John’s personal story of overcoming hardships, Rocketman boasts the year’s first Oscar worthy performance in Taron Egerton’s unbelievable transformation into the iconic singer.
The film chronicles the early days of Reginald Dwight, who struggles to connect with his tumultuous family as a child, finding solace in his love of music. As a young Dwight navigates the music scene, he befriends songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and takes the stage name Elton John as his music becomes a phenomenon. The concert footage is often wonderful, but the film is really about the different relationships in Elton’s life; from his fraught and complicated relationship with his parents to his lifelong friendship with the always honest Bernie, the film wrings all the dramatic potential out of the people that shaped Elton, and illustrates it with wonderfully imaginative musical numbers.
Enough good words cannot be said about Egerton; he is so captivating as a performer, filling the room with electric stage persona that Elton is known for, but it’s also a highly vulnerable performance. At the heart of the story is a scared child who is confused about the world and is in search of acceptance, and Egerton makes the cycles of addiction heartbreak, and excess all the more heartbreaking onscreen. This is a very rounded performance; Egerton captures how the fits of rage fit into Elton’s life, but also how his upbringing and challenging relationships caused him to become lost, and how he ultimately had to ask for help.
While the narrative is structured on Elton’s life, its the musical numbers that help to show the key emotional moments, with “Your Song” serving as a celebration of his friendship with Taupin, “Rocketman” showing us a window into his darkest stage of addiction, or “Crocodile Rock” providing an electric introduction to his live stage persona. The way in which these sequences serve the narrative are very creative and allow Egerton to excel as a performer, but also allow the film to show if its visual flare.
The musical sequences are also just remarkable works of craftsmanship; the visuals are eye popping, and are able to ground surreal elements within what’s actually happening with the scene; whether its exploring suppressed emotion or visualizing a mood shift, each scene is a self contained work of art that also connects to the larger narrative. The costume work is just stunning, as are the distinct color pallets that best serve the tone each scene sets; there’s a sense of silliness and absurdity within each number, be it celebratory or tragic, and the intercutting of appropriate flashbacks helps to best accentuate what the scene means within the story. Choreography is also a highlight, and the film makes sure that each scene includes a sense of urgency and movement in order to make it more exciting.
For a film that features so much fun music and inspiration, Rocketman is also a film framed around Elton’s trip to rehab. The image of Egerton, clad in an absurd outfit, recounting his often strange and sad story in a therapy circle, is clear; this is a larger than life person who is able to ground himself, yet remain uncompromisingly himself. It’s a delightful, thoroughly honestly personal work, a film that celebrates legacy, yet manages to tell its story in new and exciting ways. Grade: A-