Rocketman (2019) is going to draw comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) for a variety of reasons; Queen and Elton John are of the same era, they share the same basic geographic location, and both Freddie Mercury and Elton John being gay and using drugs and alcohol definitely puts their stories parallel to each other. However, the comparisons of the people and music the films are about are only the beginning, as Rocketman’s director Dexter Fletcher stepped in on Bohemian Rhapsody after Brian Singer left, and it’s debated how much of the film was truly Fletcher’s. Thus, these films are destined to be compared, even though they are essentially trying to do different things.
Rocketman soars in many ways!
Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman opts to buy into the musical genre much more, opting to live up to its tagline of being a “True Fantasy”, as there are full musical numbers with dancing and choreography, which are not a part of Elton John’s performance. One of the major complaints I read about Bohemian Rhapsody was how the film essentially looked to mythologize the band Queen while ignoring many of the darker elements of Freddie Mercury’s life. People who felt that way will be relieved to see how much Rocketman is about the emotional state that Elton John was in for much of his life, and how music both saved him and exasperated his insecurities.
A great sequence in the film that really makes some strong points about the concept of celebrity and how the public pretends to care about the figures we idolize while ultimately only caring about the entertainment they bring is the moment in the trailers where we see Elton John take a dive into his pool. At this moment, Fletcher brings some truly amazing filmmaking into this movie, as it is both visually compelling and emotionally wrenching. Elton John is at one of his lowest points and is done with the pressure and loneliness he feels, and he is looking for a way out. Like much of the film, the moment takes place in a heightened reality, where the lines of imagination and realism blur back and forth. Each moment in this sequence is done so well, and the commentary that is implied with regard to Elton’s physical and mental health becomes secondary to the old saying “The show must go on.”
I am far less familiar with Elton John and his music than I was with Queen and Freddie Mercury, so my connection to this film was not built-in. With that said, I was very impressed with Taron Egerton and his ability to become the figure I was watching. I have no way of knowing how accurate a portrayal it was, but I was transfixed with his performance. His voice (yes, he is singing in the role), is fantastic, and the renditions of the songs are very enjoyable – though it did seem they are true renditions, and not attempting to be 100% replicas of the originals…based on my memories of the songs, at least. Edgerton is having to really bring a lot to the character, as this film doesn’t shy away from the struggles that Elton had – and Edgerton is perfect in this regard.
Egerton wasn’t the only solid performance, though the other two were a bit of a surprise. Jamie Bell, who I only know from the atrocity Fantastic Four (2015), played Elton’s writing partner Bernie Taupin. I found Bell to be extremely charming, and I knew nothing of Bernie and Elton’s collaboration – so it was a story I’d not really seen in a musical biopic before. The other performance that was surprising was Bryce Dallas Howard’s as Elton’s mother. Howard can be good, but she’s also delivered some pretty forgettable performances in some pretty horrible movies over the years. Here, playing the distant and often cold-hearted mother to the pop-rock icon required her to do things I don’t recall seeing her do before in a role. Aside from the film having to age her depending on when we were seeing her interactions with Elton, she has to play a variety of emotions, many of which are harsh and mean. I thought she was excellent, and she gives one of her better performances that I’ve seen.
I definitely think Rocketman is a better movie than many people were initially anticipating. It’s a strong musical film and a really solid biopic. The movie pays tribute to a musical legend while not shying away from the struggles Elton John experienced, making it a compelling piece of film to watch. Fletcher definitely proves with this film that he can make a strong visual film with excellent storytelling. Rocketman earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.