Rocketman: Elton John’s Rousing Musical-Biopic, Starring Taron Egerton in Astounding Performance

Directed by Dexter Fletcher, Starring Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard, Paramount will release Rocketman on May 31, 2019.

The 2019 edition of the Cannes Film Fest ended just hours ago, and it’s time to look back at the highs and lows of this annual prestigious event.

Of all the movies (about 36) I saw during the past 11 days, many were artistically solid, but only few were really enjoyable, offering such rousing entertainment that they almost defy critical scrutiny.

Those were the world premieres of Elton John’s musical biopic Rocketman, which played out of competition, and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, the director’s best film since Pulp Fiction in 1994!

The screening of Paramount’s biopic of Elton John, starring Taron Egerton as the legendary musician, drew a 4-minute standing ovation, then Tarantino’s picture bested it with a 6-minute ovation!

Rocketman is a glitzy, dazzling, and enjoyable movie, largely due to the smart casting of the lead and the staging of a dozen musical numbers, which are so rousing, it makes you jump off on your feet.

That said, there are serious shortcomings in the writing department, and the simplistic Freudian psychological approach used to explain and illuminate the artist’s bright mind and (for the most part) tormented and tortured soul.

The movie might be too old-fashioned in narrative strategy and too conventional in structure to capture the various eccentricities and complex, multi-nuanced persona of the legendary and flamboyant Elton John.

Fortunately, the movie’s visual style and production and costume designs are not traditional, which helps convey vividly the central theme: Elton’s transformation from a shy, working-class piano prodigy named Reginald Dwight into a global music superstar.  That process is depicted dynamically, in a tempestuous and outrageous mode.
The goal seems to have been making a grand musical odyssey that deliberately blurs the lines of fantasy and reality.  In its good moments, which are plenty, Rocketman fuses the worlds of music, fame and fashion.
Viewers not concerned with factuality or authenticity are bound to go on an uncensored journey through the life of an icon, with Elton’s most beloved songs propelling and shaping the story.
Indeed, the dozen production numbers are reimagined and updated in breakthrough musical and dramatic performances by the largely young cast. End result is a riotous joy-ride of imagination, celebration, and inspiration.
In Rocketman, Elton John is played by Taron Egerton, who delivers an astonishing performance, based on his recording new versions of some of John’s most famous songs.
The film follows Elton from his English hometown of Pinner and along the yellow brick road of fame, addiction and heartbreak.  It begins with John’s troubled relationship with his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), a flighty woman, who doesn’t take him too seriously.
The other two central figures are his manager and onetime lover, John Reid (Richard Madden), and his legendary lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), the best friend and creative partner of over 50 years, without whom John might
not have survived.

Comparisons between Bohemian Rhapsody, which received mixed reviews but became a global box office hit and Oscar winner, and Rocketman are inevitable for several reasons.

Both films are about gay British glam rockers who were most popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Moreover, the director of Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher, was the one recruited to complete Bohemian Rhapsody after the original director, Bryan Singer, was fired for unprofessional conduct.

The Elton John biopic is superior to last year’s Freddie Mercury biopic: It is more emotionally touching, more inventive in its use of music, more direct in dealing with John’s homosexuality, and more upfront in tackling his various addictions and his descent into madness and hell.

British actor Egerton is flattered by comparisons between his Elton John musical and Bohemian Rhapsody, last year’s smash hit about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.  “I’m proud that we’re mentioned in the same breath,” says Egerton, who plays John: “That film has been such a phenomenon, and rightly so. I can’t remember who did that who finished it off.”

Egerton was referring to director Dexter Fletcher, who stepped in to complete “Bohemian Rhapsody” after Bryan Singer was fired from that troubled production. Fletcher also made “Rocketman,” which he worked on from start to finish.

Rami Malek, who won this year’s best actor Oscar for the film, lip syncs to Queen’s songs. Egerton belts out John’s greatest hits using his own voice.

“Our movie is a different animal,” Egerton said. “Our movie is a musical. It requires an actor who can sing in the lead role. For a biopic, that’s not necessary. I’m very grateful that people compare us. Hopefully, it shows that there’s an appetite for movies like this. However, that movie is a unicorn.”

The framing device of the story, written by Lee Hall (who also penned Billy Elliot) is a group therapy session, which Elton (Taron Egerton) attends in a sparkly winged devil jumpsuit, which is in orange and red.

He goes back to his childhood, when he was a sensitive and talented boy, named Reginald Dwight, growing up with a flight mother and indifferent father.  He tells his fellow addicts about his childhood in a typically confining 1950s London suburb.

There are flashbacks to the days when he got little encouragement and less affection from his strict and humorless military father (Steven Mackintosh) and his blousy mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), who cheats on her husband. 

Luckily, young Reg is a stubborn piano prodigy with perfect pitch, which only his supportive and loving grandmother recognizes and encourages.

After a stint at the Royal Academy of Music, Reg gets a job in the backing band on a soul package tour.  In his first meaningful encounter with a pro, an American crooner, the latter advises him to “kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be.”

The turning point of his career occurs in 1970, when at age 23, now renamed Elton John, he is invited to debut his act at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles.

From that point on, Elton continues to struggle with who he really is–and who he really wants to be.

Richard Madden (best known for the TV series “Bodyguard) plays a crucial role in the middle section of the tale, as the singer’s manipulative boyfriend and exploitative manager.

Elton John produced the film with husband-partner David Furnish, Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling and David Reid, and the whole team joined in for the festivities.

Throughout the premiere screening, the live audience broke into spontaneous applause, especially during the performances of the hit tunes, “Your Song” and “I’m Still Standing.”

Egerton said that he had unlimited access to John, using that opportunity to ask him about his life and legacy: “I was able to spend a lot of time with him and talk to him about everything.  Egerton even got to stay along with his girlfriend at John’s home, an estate-villa outside Nice, for a few nights. “We got quite drunk one night,” Egerton said, telling a story about how his head of security caught him raiding the kitchen at 3 am in the morning.  “He’s allowed me to get to know him away from the pomp and ceremony of his life. And being able to get under his skin in that way was really helpful.”

After the showing, John and Egerton were moved to tears by the viewers’ reaction, and embraced each other several times. In an impromptu move, Fletcher grabbed the mic and thanked the cheering crowd: “We’re absolutely blown away by your fantastic reception.”

The singer-songwriter, whose life is celebrated on screen and who’s one of the producers, seemed very pleased: “I didn’t think it was Taron. I thought it was me. That’s the highest compliment I can give.”