Another year, another mediocre big budget biopic, filled with Oscar aspirations, about a musical genius. I’m a huge fan of Elton John, and have been for years, but he deserves so much more than what is mainly just a serviceable musical drama about his life. While it gets credit for consciously dodging biopic tropes (and seems to also be a retort to “Bohemian Rhapsody” which openly shied away from Freddie Mercury’s sexuality), “Rocketman” only inspired me to re-visit his classic music.
Based on the life of Reginald Dwight (who later became known by his stage name: Elton John), “Rocketman” chronicles of the life of John who grew up in a small isolated town in England, and was raised by a cold single mother. A prodigy with the piano at a young age, John grew up confused about his place in the world as he rocketed in to stardom as the iconic singer and musician. As he embraces his sexuality, he also has to do battle with those seeking to exploit him and his fame. Taron Egerton gives it his all in what is a movie that seems to be very aware of creaky old music biopic tropes, and tries in vain to create something new.
What ultimately unfolds is an uneven just—pretty good movie that doesn’t do justice to the legacy Elton John has left many with. Dexter Fletcher works over time to side step so much of the clichés, and in its place he injects a somewhat awkward musical that works hard to connect all of John’s music to the hurdles that he faced in his life. Inevitably he does dip in to antiquated clichés about how awful fame can be, his battle with drugs, yadda, yadda. There’s barely any time to really soak in the legend of Elton John, and the passion he had for creating and writing. While Dexter’s direction is mesmerizing and often beautiful, the narrative feels so worn.
It never quite explores John’s sexuality with as much complexity as it should have, reserving much of his personal life to romantic frustrations and his involvement with an abusive lover. Much like Rami Malek with Freddie Mercury, Egerton plays Elton John right down to singing every single song, and the uneven vocals from the star taint what should have been a pretty wild but heartfelt tale of an outcast who became a superstar. Egerton doesn’t have half of the range that John did when busting out amazing songs like “Don’t Let the Sun Fall Down on Me” and “Rocket Man.” Instead it just feels like stiff karaoke for Egerton who never knows his limitations, and much of what we see is as superficial as John’s gaudy on stage costumes.