Rocketman (2019)

2020 #3
Dexter Fletcher | 121 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | UK, USA & Canada / English | 15 / R


The director and star of Eddie the Eagle reunite for another biopic of a bespectacled British icon… though I’m not sure how favourable global music megastar Elton John would consider that comparison.

Both films concern a regular lad from a working-class background who dreams of something bigger — in Eddie’s case, Olympic glory; in Elton’s, music stardom. But that’s more or less where the films diverge, because whereas Eddie’s ski jumping adventure was rendered as a family-friendly comedy, Elton’s seduction by sex and drugs and rock and roll is altogether more adult. But it’s also a world away from grim and gritty seriousness, because director Dexter Fletcher regularly injects flights of fancy and fantasy. Elton may end up in a very dark place (before inevitable salvation, natch), but it’s a helluva lot of fun getting there.

In my review of the year before’s big musical biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody — which Fletcher ended up guiding through a third of its shoot and post-production after credited helmsman Bryan Singer was fired — I wondered which director was responsible for that film’s “occasional bold directorial flourishes”. On the evidence of Rocketman, I’d guess they were Fletcher’s idea. His staging and camerawork are often highly imaginative here, really cutting loose during the musical numbers. (Fletcher’s next job is taking over the Sherlock Holmes films from Guy Ritchie, a task that certainly requires the kind of visual panache he’s demonstrated here.)

Piano man

Indeed, this isn’t just “a film about music”, but a proper musical. It isn’t just a simplistic jukebox musical either, nor a standard musician biopic where the character performs some of their hits. Well, it is both of those — it’s a jukebox musical because all the songs are from Elton’s back catalogue (plus one new one so it could vie for the Oscar, of course), and the character of Elton John does perform some of his hits in recording studios and on concert stages. But it’s also more than that in the way it’s executed. Other characters break into song from time to time too, and there are clever reimaginings of several recognisable tracks. This is a restlessly imaginative movie.

Egerton is superb in the lead role, crafting Elton as a much more nuanced figure than he’s sometimes regarded; a truly rounded individual with a considered interior life. One might argue the whole drugs storyline is somewhat predictable or even rote, with some surprising mirrors of the much-criticised Bo Rhap (“surprising” because where that film was roundly criticised for its clichés this has received a much more generous critical response)… but if that’s the true story, that’s the true story, right? Egerton certainly negotiates it with believability. Much praise for the film has focused on his performance, leading to significant awards nominations (like at BAFTA) and wins (a Golden Globe), but there are several great supporting players too, not least Jamie Bell as Elton’s lifelong songwriter and true friend, Bernie Taupin.

The cumulative effect is a movie that is highly enjoyable but not without depth; that offers toe-tapping entertainment and filmmaking thrills in its musical numbers, while also digging into its subject’s troubles and their causes. Like an eagle, or a rocket, it doesn’t just fly, it soars.

5 out of 5

Rocketman is on Sky Cinema from today. It placed 10th on my list of The Best Films I Saw in 2020.

6 thoughts on “Rocketman (2019)

  1. I just last week sat down with Yesterday, and I quite enjoyed that — formulaic though it was. And at that time I was scrolling through On Demand/Netflix/whatever else and searched out these other similar musical-biopics. I summarily dismissed the likes of Rocketman and Blinded by the Light as I just assumed since you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. But you make a good case for this one being a bit more imaginative. I’ll give it a look for sure! I’m a pretty big fan of Taron Egerton. He’s effortlessly charming

    Liked by 1 person

    • It definitely hits some familiar plot beats from other films of its ilk, but I think it has enough other stuff going for it to overcome that — in particular Egerton, who I agree is a very good leading man. I haven’t watched that Robin Hood he did yet because of all the bad reviews, but I’m still intending to mainly because of him.

      Liked by 1 person

    • They could probably do a whole episode of Kermode’s show just on musical biopics at this point, though the way he placed them in the episode (as a kind of modern hero myth) wasn’t wide of the mark either.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wowza, five stars? This one just jumped up my priority list. I wonder how long it will be before similar biopics of Michael Jackson and Prince see the light of day, these films certainly seem to be getting popular. I really did enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody, even if that did seem consciously fantasy over gritty reality (I’m quite looking forward to Yesterday, can’t imagine that will be too long arriving on Sky).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody, but I think this is a better film. There’s no one sequence to beat Bo Rhap‘s recreation of Live Aid, but there’s a great consistency of style and tone, more interesting use of the music, and slightly less reliance on familiar music biopic beats.

      Conversely, I thought Yesterday was quite middling, but not unenjoyable. It’s due on Sky on April 12th, apparently.

      Liked by 1 person

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