As one of the world’s best-selling musical artists, giving Elton John the biopic treatment is a slam dunk. With Rocketman, what could have been a chance to celebrate and share the legacy of an artist possessing a second-to-none combination of talent, charisma and It Factor wound up being a special kind of bad. Director Dexter Fletcher, who also helmed the Queen train wreck that is Bohemian Rhapsody after original director Bryan Singer was dismissed, was tapped to call the shots here. So the outcome shouldn’t be surprising.
The film’s subject was an executive producer on this project and while he and his creative collaborators apparently tried to get the word out that this wasn’t going to be a traditional biopic, turning this into a cinematic jukebox musical would have worked far better. Instead, Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall went for trying to be a musical and a biopic with a fantasy element thrown in for good measure. That said, the movie fails at being either.
Taron Egerton delivers a solid, but unspectacular portrayal of Reg Dwight. (Talk of this being an Oscar-worthy performance is also quite the head-scratcher.) Unquestionably, the most interesting thing about Elton John is the music. And while we get it thrown at us in a way that’s more about moving units in the Elton John canon versus serving the story (with the exception of the “Your Song” segment), Hall chose to throw every cliché about drug-addicted, alcoholic rock stars into the mix while folding in flat performances by Bryce Dallas Howard and Steve Mackintosh playing Elton’s shrewish mother and distant father.
Throw in a seemingly allergic treatment to facts and chronological history and, as one astute reviewer wrote, “It’s hard to say who will be more disappointed by Rocketman: people who know a lot about Elton John or people who know nothing.” The biggest casualties in Rocketman are facts. Everything from John blowing the roof off his breakout 1970 Troubadour gig by playing “Crocodile Rock,” a song that wouldn’t be written for another two years, to the origin of his name gets tossed to the wind. And while this movie is not a documentary, there is also a salient point that this is a biographical film about someone’s life. While artistic liberties are often taken, such as creating a fictional character as a composite of different real-life people, at the end of the day, you don’t get to make up your own facts. It’s a trend that seems to have crossed over from politics to art.
—Dave Gil de Rubio
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