Bursting into a group therapy session, an alcohol and drug-addicted Elton John (Taron Egerton) makes for an incongruous addition. Resplendent in red feathers, diamanté spandex and curly horns, his lifelong devils seem to have come along for the trip as well. Louche and high on self pity, the boy inside the man starts to detail his weaknesses and in doing so, ‘RocketMan’ takes off from the scene of Elton’s humble beginnings: home.
… is a rock n’roll movie that fully embraces its ‘R’ rating.
Part drama, part musical, director Dexter Fletcher’s rock biopic is at pains to shed the disappointment of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as much as its central character is keen to shed his inhibitions. Brazenly flaunting the tantrums and tiaras of Elton John’s meteoric rise to fame, this is a rock n’roll movie that fully embraces its ‘R’ rating. Men are fucked, drugs are taken and feelings are hurt in a musical that occasionally struggles to fully embrace its demons.
Despite its confessional tone, those familiar with Dexter Fletcher’s ‘Sunshine on Leith’ and the ‘Mamma Mia’ movies should know what to expect. Song lyrics bleed into dialogue and the hits steadily become the structural backbone upon which the plot rides. So, whilst the drama is better handled here than that of the recent Queen biopic, it still sadly comes off second best to the film’s main job of showcasing Elton John’s songs. All of which brings us to Taron Egerton’s central performance.
As Elton John, the observations, mannerisms, accent and gait are all pitch perfect and Taron Egerton can be proud of a job well done. Neither a stereotypical imitation nor a wide departure from the source material, this is an actorly performance helped by Taron impressively singing all the songs himself. However, whereas stylistically all of the movie’s period accurate diamonds are in all place, it is the film’s pacing that sadly denies him any pause so we can properly identify with Elton’s pain (and in this respect, ‘A Star Is Born’s’ slower, more tragic beats feel much better judged). That said, ‘RocketMan’ does sport an excellent ensemble cast with a suitably snotty Bryce Dallas Howard playing Elton’s mother and a frigidly restrained Steven Mackintosh as his distant father.
So, whilst it ultimately falls short of either ‘Walk The Line’s’ or ‘Ray’s’ dramatic balance, Dexter Fletcher’s ‘RocketMan’ becomes a feature that might well return to earth sooner than expected. Although a vast improvement upon his emergency resuscitation of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the searing drama of his earlier ‘Wild Bill’ is not to be found here. Instead Dexter Fletcher has delivered a rousing and tightly choreographed detour from all things Queen, with a movie whose candour and unapologetic tone should see it win many fans, if not as many box office receipts.
Bravely placing its candour in the wind, ‘RocketMan’ is ultimately an ambitious departure that attempts to mix its genres and put a fresh spin on the rock biopic. Only partly successful, Taron Egerton’s Elton John isn’t the man you might think he is at home. With a performance that safely touches down between expectation and surprise, hopefully it’s not going to be a long, long time until he gets the dramatic role to really shine in. Falling short of the stars, ‘RocketMan’ at least points the way for him to go.