Rated R, 121 minutes.
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor and Tate Donovan
Last year’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY launched new interest in music biopics when its success pushed back into the spotlight the generationally beloved and iconic rock star Freddie Mercury, played by “Academy Award” winner Rami Malek. Sitting at number three from this weekend’s box office is another flashy film about the rise and struggles of a rock figure. But unlike BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, ROCKETMAN, a musical interpretation of piano man and singer Elton John’s early success, shows no fear while portraying Elton’s eventual spiral into alcohol, drug, sex, food, and shopping addiction with just a splash of uncontrolled anger issues on the side. Despite the grittiness, ROCKETMAN at least wants to have fun with the film’s subject, even when the story digs into his darkest moments.
Taron Egerton’s entrance as Elton John is majestic and sassy; a red-horned devil with wings splayed across his back hammering through doors on his way to a group therapy session. Soul crushed with tears streaming down his face, Elton launches into a rendition of “The Bitch is Back” as he introduces his back-story to the group. I will point out that until this moment, I had no idea ROCKETMAN was that “kind of musical.” By which I mean, I didn’t realize bursting out into song would be the norm for the next two hours. The surprise turned pleasant as multiple characters took center stage with featured solo spots in John’s songs.
We always know who these characters are, even if we only receive a few moments with them or a few lines of a song. Everyone from Elton’s narcissistic, overbearing mother to his obliging best friend and writing partner is thoroughly presented, something missing in films that focus solely on the experiences of one character, as a music biopic is wont to do. The complexity in Egerton’s performance is enthralling, especially in his saddest, most bitter, and most manic moments – addictions are no joke, and Egerton has matured enough as an actor over the last few years to bring humanity into this figure many places on a pedestal.
While Egerton is the foundation of the film, the supporting cast is just as worthy of attention. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elton’s dismissive, disenchanted mother Shelia with voracity so strong I felt sick in moments. She channels all the terrible moms of the world, but still makes Shelia a recognizable and sometimes sympathetic character. Jamie Bell’s Bernie Taupin is just as engaging and crucial to Egerton’s performance as Elton because he establishes and represents this place of home and acceptance for Elton that he never had until that moment. The true love story is their friendship, and at times, I wish we had had a few more moments with just them. But, I get it, drugs and sex and booze are fun to see on screen.
ROCKETMAN is in US theaters now.