“Rocketman” is the second combination bio-pic and juke box musical that director Dexter Fletcher has given us in the last year. He’s the replacement who finished up “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Each of the movies is, in a special way, true to its subject. “Rocketman” is much more fantastic than was the Queen movie.
But then Elton John was, at the height of his success, more a fantasy act than a rocker. Surely the old tunesmith must have approved of the film’s take on the stock Rock Star story, and on its emphasis on his victimhood during most of its last half.
The movie’s assets are its chief actors and its Baz Luhrman way of suddenly ballooning into production numbers. If you haven’t see “Strictly Ballroom,” stream it tonight.
Taron Egerton, who we know from the “Kingsman” films, is terrific as John. He manages to resemble the pianist, he sings well, and he brings a lot of sober energy to a project that must have just sounded goofy. Gemma Jones and Jamie Bell play the sympathetic characters, Elton’s granny and lyricist Bernie Taupin. They do a lot with their characters, which are two-dimensional types.
Everything is pretty two-dimensional in the movie. Elton, we see, was a sensitive boy with worse than useless parents — who sent him to the Royal Academy of Music. The film would have us believe he could play whatever he heard.
And he wanted to be a rock star. But he couldn’t write lyrics. So he joined forces with a friendly but straight poet, Taupin. Their first dozen songs pleased famous music entrepreneur Dick James so much that he immediately sent them off to L.A. where Elton wowed the crowd at The Troubadour with high-heeled shoes that were the beginning of his wild costumes.
The old story continues. Elton sells lots of concert tickets and records. A tall dark man seduces him, takes over his management, pressures him to work harder, and flaunts his infidelities. The songwriter is drinking and drugging.
Taupin takes a break from holding John’s hand. Elton stages a failed suicide. And then he finds an AA meeting which he attends while wearing an orange horned and winged stage costume. His comments at that 12-step meeting make a frame for the story, which also includes occasional brief appearances by a 5-year-old version of the singer.
There must have been versions of the star who can’t abide success story before even the Hank Williams bio-pics. The homosexual element isn’t even new — it figured in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” So one doesn’t watch “Rocketman” for its story.
The movie is happily adept at hiding how much John’s song catalog depends on ballads. It makes more of the catchy but irritating “Honky Cat” and the rocker “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” than it does of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” Probably the inclusion of a performance of “Pinball Wizard,” a song written by the Who’s Peter Townsend, is evidence that the producers were looking for up-tempo stuff to add to the movie’s mix.
The audience is supposed to feel for John when his father and mother don’t show him suddenly discovered affection after his financial success. That feels wrong. If they didn’t love him as a kid, why would they love him just because he was rich?
But one does have to enjoy the break-out musical numbers, big production performances of vaguely appropriate John tunes which may take up most of the film’s running time. They are colorful.
And the first half of the film, about John’s discovering his musical talent and becoming a star, “Rocketman” is a lot of fun in a “That Thing You Do” sort of way.
From then on, though, everybody in the theater knows how John will crash and burn. Surely even he must have known.