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Rocketman - A musical fantasy more like Mamma Mia and less like Bohemian Rhapsody


I think my review title sums up this spin through Elton John's 1970's musical output. I was expecting more biopic than an extended MTV music video - which is how the film ends. That and the fact that the film was a bit of a pity-party for Reginald Dwight.

Director Dexter Fletcher, who directed one of my favourite Films based on the music of The Proclaimers, "Sunshine on Leith" takes the same approach and confidently brings this La La Land-tinged film to the big screen. The film uses some of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's songs to tell parts of their life stories. The songs are chronologically out of sequence and that jarred with me and reinforced the fantasy aspects. This is reinforced again with the portrayed story of how Elton got his stage name. Reg Dwight chose his stage name after his band-mates Elton Dean and Long John Baldry, but the film implies his new persona's surname honours John Lennon. Oh well.

So. let's talk about the story. It's based on the life of Elton John (Taron Egerton), Rocketman explores how a shy teenage piano prodigy grew into one of rock's most iconic acts. Viewers meet John when he's still Reggie Dwight, an under-loved kid who desperately wants attention from his dismissive father (Steven Mackintosh) and disinterested mom (Bryce Dallas Howard). A scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music changes his fate, as does a fortuitous meeting with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), with whom the newly rock-renamed Elton John writes his most beloved hits.

Egerton has plenty of charisma and charm and puts across a story anyone can relate to: someone who never felt like he was enough gradually learning his worth. In stark contrast to many biographies of gay subjects, John's sexuality is neither denied nor glossed over, with scenes of frank and flirtatious sex and affection. Yet John's sex life isn't made the centre of the action, either; that place is held by the platonic friends-for-life love story between John and longtime collaborator Taupin which is the only relationship that is genuinely explored.

The film uses a group therapy scene from a rehabilitation programme as a hook to hang John’s life story from, and viewers may find it difficult to sympathise with a fabulously wealthy rock star who get heavily into drink, drugs and spending lavishly. The dramatic aspects of the story also aren’t exactly moving – though the scene where he visits his father’s second family is touching.

The highlight for me was Egerton's performance. He sings and dances and emotes his way through the film with real gusto and singing talent.

if you're not a fan, stay away.


 

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