Music biopics are in – the long anticipated, much hyped’ Freddie Mercury story ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, was of course, a massive success.
Hot on its heel’s, is ‘Rocketman’; a musical fantasy based on the life of Elton John – an equally flamboyant and notoriously excessive popstar, who like Freddie, also faced controversy and struggle over his sexuality during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Unlike Freddie however, who sadly fell victim to the devastation of H.I.V and the AIDS crises; Elton manage to survive the hedonism and excess of his peak – famously going to rehab at the turn of the 90’s to deal with his numerous and gargantuan addictions. As well as the usual booze and drugs, it was also sex, food and shopping.
And here is where the film begins, and cleverly hangs around – with Elton arriving in rehab dressed in one of his most famously ridiculous stage costumes (and he had a few).
Taron Egerton hams up Elton’s famously volatile and diva-ish’ behaviour, at first scowling and protesting about being in the group therapy session, before proceeding to tell the story of his life; from childhood, his journey to stardom, and subsequent descent into addiction at the peak of his career – via flashbacks which make up the film’s main action.
‘Rocketman’ is not a straight-ahead biopic, it is a musical that uses fantasy and surrealistic touches to give an entertaining and colourful-look at Elton’s life.
Neither does the film strictly follow the timeline of events in Elton’s life, employing artistic license with the historical accuracy of some events, with his songs being brought to life in highly choreographed sequences – where they fit the story, not necessarily at the chronolgical point in which they were released.
The arrangements are great, and the songs sound thrilling; reminding us that pre-the red glasses, artificial thatch, and Vegas residency – Elton really was a brilliant songwriter and performer. Tunes like ‘Your Song’, ‘Tiny Dancer’ and ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting; have a vibrancy and emotional resonance that are peerless.
Taron sings the songs himself (with help from the other characters) and impressively makes them his own.
Meanwhile, the two actors that play the young Reginald Dwight (Elton’s real name) – or Reggie as he was known, Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley;both have tons of presence, especially the later who as boy Elton is a real standout star of the film.
Taron is superb, managing to give a beleivable mix of vulnerability and arrogance to the part of Elton.
Bridget Jones’s mum aka actress Gemma Jones, is suitably warm as Elton’s grandmother Ivy – the one ray of love and support of his musical ambitions.
Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard gives a highly watchable portrayal as his apparently vain and self-serving mother.
Taron is superb as Elton, managing to convey him with an appropriate mix of vulnerability and stroppy arrogance.
He even manages to look uneeringly like the singer – particularly impressive considering how little he resembles Elton in real life (I mean Taron’s is a bit of a heartthrob isn’t – and well let’s be honest, without wanting to be cruel, Elton’s appeal was never based on his looks), right down to his piercing and darting eye movements.
UK’ TV-favourite – Steven Mackintosh is his seemingly cold and remote father Stanley, who leaves when Shelia is discovered to be having an affair with a man named Fred (who subsequently becomes Elton’s stepfather).
There is a particularly poignant scene, after Elton has become rich and famous, and goes to visit his father– now remarried with young sons – in his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. Father and son are like strangers, and Stanley seems to view Elton only as some kind of trophy, asking him to autograph an album for a work colleague.
Dick James, the music publishing mogul ultimately signed Elton and guided his early career – is given a comic-touch by Stephen Graham; as a straight-talking, blustering, who, less amusingly (but unsurprising for the era) is a bit of a homophobe.
Jamie Bell convinces as the affable, gentle straight-guy Bernie Taupin – the lyricist who has written the words to the majority of Elton’s back catalogue, and been an (almost) constant through his career.
The chemistry between him and Taron makes the dynamic between Bernie and Elton highly believable. The scene where they first meet in a café and bond over their shared loved of music feels particularly real and touching.
After initially being taken aback by the revelation of Elton’s preference for men, he sweetly takes it in his stride when Elton develops a crush for him and tries to make a move. A scenario that many a gay man has surely experienced at some point in his life.
Elton’s landmark gig at the infamous Troubadour club in L.A, the point from which his career is said to have really begun to soar from – is one of the film’s (many) highlights.
Tate Donovan is hilarious as the leering, camp club owner Doug Weston. Meanwhile, the fantasy element is upped to the max as a nervous Elton is suddenly propelled into the air, as if he really is a ‘rocket man’.
This is also where – the not exactly uneasy on the eye – Richard Madden appears as John Reid, who goes on to be Elton’s first gay partner, as well as his long-term manager. Richard delivers a solid performance, playing Reid as an initially seductive, but ultimately hard-nosed and ruthlessly cruel character, who sees Elton as his cash-cow and flaunts his other conquests under the singer’s nose.
Unlike ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Rocketman’ doesn’t shy away from the gay aspect of its subject’s life. There is a fairly graphic sex scene between Taron and Richard, which has – understandably – has got some cinema goers more than a little excited.
As his relationship with John unravels, and Elton feels controlled and exploited, we see him begin to unravel as he seeks solace in booze and drugs.
Following a temporary split from working with Taupin, who was burnt out from being on the road with Elton; the singer has the obligatory late ‘70’s foray into the disco scene. Both musically, and ‘erm, socially.
Here we see Taron/Elton in a particularly electric-fantasy sequence, being held aloft in a club by sea of topless gay men – apparently lost in a hedonistic haze.
Elton finds temporary ‘redemption’ in the ‘80’s – when he tries to go ‘straight’ by marrying the poor Renate (such different times, thankfully) before, as the film concludes, finally coming to terms with his sexuality and going to rehab.
‘Rocketman’ has its flaws, but it does Elton and his music justice. It’s fantastic entertainment – making you want to dance, cry, leaving the cinema feeling like you’d quite like to watch it all over again.
Have you seen ‘Rocketman’ yet – what are your thoughts? Let us know on Twitter @GayBoyBible