On the heels of “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes the lauded “Rocketman” out of the Cannes Film Festival. The two films have much in common and, because of its timing, it’s sure to get plenty of comparative analysis. Director Dextor Fletcher finished directing the Queen biopic and now has full credit in directing the Elton John film.
Taron Egerton (“Kingsmen: The Secret Service”) embodies the flamboyant and brilliant singer/songwriter with exquisite skill, much as Rami Malek did with Freddy Mercury. However, the two films are quite different, particularly in storytelling style.
Elton John (Egerton) flashes on screen with a bold winged and horned costume and bursts into a quiet meeting room where he takes center seat to tell the AA group his story of what brought him to this lowly state of addiction that has affected his entire life.
This is the perfect segue to thrust us back in time to Elton’s, aka Reginald Dwight’s, childhood, where he is privy to his mother’s promiscuous ways and his father’s disinterest. His one stable adult is his adoring grandmother, who always rallies to give Reggie the push in the right direction.
We are taken through key moments in Reggie’s life, all accompanied by segments of popular songs we all know and love as the characters burst into song.
This creates a feeling the music was a part of Elton John’s life and perspective and gives new meaning to songs such as “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
Reggie becomes Elton John, and after meeting and collaborating with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), the film skyrockets into the difficulties of fame, fortune and being gay in this era.
Egerton masterfully connects us to Elton John, a man who struggles with love on all levels — from his relationships with his parents to his romantic ones — and the disappointments that inherently come with the territory.
Egerton perfectly portrays Elton with his mannerisms, but most importantly, his heart and emotion. He’s a hurt and broken man in many ways, and Egerton embodies him with utmost skill. We get to know Elton’s battles and demons, but it’s just not as edgy as one might expect from a story about Elton John.
Yes, he’s flamboyant on stage, and we gain an understanding of his true music genius. We also understand how the stars were aligned when he met his working partner and best friend Taupin, and the constant connection to his younger self is always on his shoulder, guiding him and tugging on him to find love. But even given these elements, the story feels predictable and tame.
“Rocketman” blasts off in the beginning with its toe-tapping fun music, characters who intrigue you to know more and a story that is at once engagingly sweet, oftentimes funny and heartbreakingly sad, but halfway through the film, this energy begins to dissipate, and we find most of the characters, except Elton, are one-dimensional.
The crux of “Rocketman” is Elton’s addiction, fame and battle with the manager whom he loves, much like the story of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This is where the pacing of the film meanders and feels repetitive.
As the end approaches, the loose ends are all tied up in perfectly cliche ways, which is expected given the real Elton John is not only here to tell his story, he was on set as an executive producer.
Using a nonlinear timeline to tell the story, bouncing back and forth between the current day of the AA meeting to flashbacks of Elton’s life, is not a novel technique, but it certainly is one that works to tell a life story as it consolidates decades worth of work and emotion into a shorter time period. However, a bit more editing and consolidation could have saved the narrative arc from flatlining in the middle of the film.
Elton John is the foundation of music and a true genius in the industry, and “Rocketman” punctuates that fact. While the story is bold in many ways, as it not only addresses his sexual preferences, his upbringing and residual scars and incorporates iconic music we all know and love, it’s a predictable story.