Director: Dexter Fletcher
Release Date: May 31, 2019
If someone has accomplished something significant in life, there’s a filmmaker itching to take his story to the big screen. Over the years the biopic formula hasn’t changed much. We see a snapshot of the person’s life or the whole thing from birth to death, both in a linear timeline. The stories are grounded in the real world with almost no style to the filmmaking, leaving nothing up for interpretation. After all, we’re seeing a true story and would like to see just the facts and not have to speculate on this person’s life.
Rocketman chronicles the life of piano player/singer Elton John. In many ways it follows the genre’s formula. We see his childhood and his early relationship with his parents. The film is quick to point out that he is a musical genius, by showing us that even as a child he was an incredibly gifted musician. All the emotional beats are there in a predictable way. We see the rise and know when the inevitable “all is lost” fall to rock bottom is coming.
Although we’ve seen this type of storytelling a million times, director Dexter Fletcher takes some creative risks in making this film more refreshing. The story is told in Forest Gump style. Rather than talking to strangers on a bench, Elton John tells his story in a group therapy session. Rocketman also doesn’t take place on the same planet earth that, say, Walk the Line does. The characters are obviously exaggerated versions of their real life counterparts. It’s part musical, part biopic as the musical numbers are used to push the story forward while giving us insight on how they relate to Elton’s life. At times the songs are performed in a live setting by Taron Egerton as Elton John and other times they’re performed by the cast as more of a theater production.
The overdone performances, ridiculous as they are, are very effective. Richard Madden as Elton’s shitbag love interest and manager, John Reid, is the most punchable character I’ve seen on screen this year. He is cold, heartless, and only about getting his “20 percent long after you’ve killed yourself,” as he says to Elton when he’s at his low point. He’s the suit literally and figuratively as he is always dressed like a James Bond villain. In order to hit all the emotional beats the film needs a clear-cut antagonist and Richard Madden delivers.
Being less than a year removed from the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s impossible not to compare the two films. Dexter Fletcher worked on both as he took over for Bryan Singer after he left production on Bohemian Rhapsody. Both feature tortured geniuses and their rise, fall and rise again. Rocketman is able to dive deeper into Elton’s life, something Bohemian Rhapsody was unable to do as it tried to give each member 15 minutes of screen time. Had Rami Malek not have won an Oscar last year for his role as Freddie Mercury, Taron Egerton would be an early contender for the award this year. Bohemian Rhapsody may have smashed the box office as the highest-grossing musical biopic of all time but Rocketman is more original in style and more creative in presenting the music. This was fun but can we get a break from biopics now?