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Josh Reviews Rocketman

Rocketman tells the story of the life and career of Elton John, starting with his humble beginnings as a boy named Reginald Dwight, being raised by his mother and grandmother in Britain in the ‘50s.  Reggie’s piano skills quickly become apparent, and when he connects with song-writer Bernie Taupin, they form a friendship and a creative partnership that will last for decades.

Rocketman was written by Lee Hall and Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who worked on this film soon after helping to complete 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

The film leans into Elton John’s colorful public persona. My favorite sequences in the film were those when the film stepped outside of the box of a conventional musical bio-pic structure, and embraced a musical-fantasy element.  I enjoyed the song-and-dance numbers (an early sequence at a fair set to Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting was a highlight of the film for me) as well as the film’s framing device (in which an outrageously-attired Elton tells the story of his life, gradually stripping off pieces of his costume as we get closer to seeing the real Reggie inside).

But the film’s weakness is that, despite those trappings, it still hews fairly closely to the familiar structure of a musical bio-pic.  The film has a predictable structure of Elton’s rise and then his unhappy struggles and fall.  (I had a similar complaint regarding Bohemian Rhapsody.  And as was the case with Bohemian Rhapsody, I enjoyed the fun first half of Rocketman far more than the more somber second half.)

Taron Egerton is terrific as Elton John/Reginald Dwight.  Just like Rami Malek’s ferocious performance was, in my opinion, the main reason to see Bohemian Rhapsody, so too is Mr. Egerton’s charismatic turn here the best aspect of Rocketman.  I enjoyed Mr. Egerton’s work in the two Kingsman films (which were directed by Matthew Vaughn, who produced Rocketman), but I didn’t know he had this type of performance in him!  This is a star-making turn.  Mr. Egerton is electric with Elton John’s charisma and energy.  He also, apparently, did all of his own singing in the film!  That is amazing, because there is a lot of singing in the film (no surprise), and Mr. Egerton does a fantastic job in singing so many of Elton John’s famous songs.  (Much credit must also be given to the film’s musical director Giles Martin — son of the famous Beatles producer George Martin — who did a terrific job incorporating so much of Mr. Elton’s great music throughout this film.)

Mr. Fletcher has assembled a terrific supporting cast.  Jamie Bell (King Kong) is great as Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics for most of Elton’s songs.  I love Mr. Bell’s sensitive, empathetic work here, and I love that the film spends so much time fleshing out Mr. Taupin’s role in Elton’s success.  Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) is all oily menace as manager John Reid.  (Interestingly, Mr. Reid also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, albeit in a far less negative depiction, as played by Mr. Madden’s Game of Thrones co-star Aidan Gillen.)  Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, Jurassic World) is great as Elton’s mother Sheila Dwight.  Young Reggie’s home life was clearly unhappy, and the film allows us to see his mom in a negative light as a poor maternal role model, while also showing us her humanity and her love for her son.  Stephen Graham (Snatch, Gruagatch in Hellboy, “Tony Pro” in The Irishman) is fun as Dick James of DJM Records, who manages Elton in the early days (until getting cast by the wayside as Elton’s star rises further).

The film looks terrific, filled with vibrant colors, as befits the story of the life of the colorful Elton John.  I was delighted by the film’s costumes — we get to see so many of Elton’s iconic looks, from across his career, recreated here!

The film, for the most part, has a pleasing sense of fun and joy, and a poppy energy that carries us through the tale.  (As I commented above, that falls away somehwat in the film’s more lugubrious second half, in which we see Elton falling into drug addiction and loneliness.  It’s hard being a rock-and-roll star, these films want us to understand!!)

Like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman also features a main character who learns to accept his homosexuality.  Unlike the PG-13 Bohemian Rhapsody, though, Rocketman is an R-rated film that presents a more frank depiction of Elton’s homosexual relationships.  This was nice to see!  I’m glad the film didn’t feel the need to hide those aspects of Elton.

I’m glad to have seen Rocketman!  I enjoyed the film’s energy and fantastic use of Elton John’s wonderful music.  Taron Egerton’s lead performance is riveting, and worthy of attention.

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