Explosion of fantasy, theatrics and reality.
“You gotta kill the person you were born to be to become the person you wanna be” – words Elton John took to heart, entering the rockstar stratosphere through a cascade of booze, drugs and sex. From the toilet door mediocrity of earlier Mercury-flavoured drivel, Rocketman is a dazzlingly forthright chronicle of a legend and his troubling, but avowed legacy.
Long before the world’s throats grew sore singing along to ‘Tiny Dancer’, Dexter Fletcher’s film really starts where it makes sense; the very beginning. A means of emotional repair of sorts, a jaded, cliff-edge Elton (Taron Egerton) recounts and reminisces about his ascent from humble piano boy to certified celebrity, and the floating figures in his life; some enabling his downfall(s), others stopping the sun from going down.
For a fairly standard runtime, there’s plenty to chew, such as: Elton’s fractured, often yell-inducing relationship with his parents (a particularly toxic Bryce Dallas Howard); the cutesy brotherly relationship with long-time songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell); and his well-accounted relationship with music-manager extraordinaire John Reid (Richard Madden).
Your gut will wrench as tenuous bonds break, unravelling with incendiary honesty – in one red-eyed moment, Madden’s Reid calmly tells Elton: “Don’t worry… I’ll still be picking up my 20% long after you kill yourself.” Their steamy romance is brilliantly portrayed, layered with palpable tension, a proper sex scene and the ill-awaited venom that’d flow between them – Madden is afforded some scorching lines (“Clean yourself up because you fucking stink”), all enhanced by his class Scottish accent. It’s refreshing to have a biopic of a gay icon that delves into his homosexuality by actually showing his homosexuality.
The cast are terrific, some areas of the ensemble appropriately grounded (Bell is rather good), others hammed up to hilarious effect, such as Stephen Graham’s caustic, expletive-laden retorts as Dick James. But the star of the show, the seamless, impressively ranged headliner, is Egerton. His big break in Kingsman showed charisma and it’s no surprise Matthew Vaughn batted for him here; this is sensational stuff. Stunning in his authentic navigation of turmoil, love and emotional despair, but also convincing as a fully-fledged musical maestro, rocking a jewel-studded selection of paraphernalia and singing with gusto and unequivocal talent – just wait till you hear ‘Your Song’. There better be Oscar buzz for him next year, if for nothing else (which would be a tragedy).
The craft here is gloriously and unashamedly corny at times, but in that trip into near-hallucinatory tableaux, the result can be ethereal. Working with cinematographer George Richmond, the filmmakers use dream-like fantasy to visualise the ecstasy of the moment. Bodies float, unlikely transitions are silky-smooth, dance numbers pounce and prance with elegance (an early ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)’ number is super infectious). Fletcher’s direction in this regard is brilliant – although there was controversy when his name wasn’t attached to Bohemian Rhapsody during awards season, it was for the greater good. What a stunner to say is yours.
The most intoxicating moment of the movie comes as the narcotic hardship is pretty severe; Egerton’s Elton walks on to a diving board, and proclaims: “And for my next trick… I’m going to fucking kill myself,” falling into an aqua abyss. But as Matthew Margeson’s composition (impressive, by the way) hints at, the titular ballad arrives. And it’s beautiful, from performance, to cinematography, to Fletcher’s imagination, butterflies flutter then and each time you play it back on Spotify. Enchanting in every sense of the word, but also emotionally logical. This is a fantastic movie; a hard-going, adult-tailored fantasy, unforgiving but poignant and endearing all the same.
A coke-fuelled musical odyssey beyond the black and white.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm