Taron Egerton takes on the tough task of portraying one of the most iconic singers of all time: Elton John. Dexter Fletcher directs the part fantasy musical biopic starting with his childhood.
It’s a difficult task to create a story about someone’s life. What do you include? What do you leave out? What do you exaggerate and what don’t you? With Lee Hall on writing duties, he and Fletcher have managed to meld the drama of Elton’s life with the fantastical element of his music and fashion in an entertaining film which doesn’t shy away from hard hitting subjects.
Taron Egerton is no stranger to using his vocal chords to belt out an Elton John song. His RADA audition had him singing Your Song and during his part in the movie Sing, back in 2016 where he played Johnny, he went for the classic I’m Still Standing. Very few young actors have the range and charisma of Egerton whose take on Elton John is less of an impersonation and more an embodiment of who he was when growing up and struggling with his own identity and fame. Combining these two elements makes for a fascinating performance in which Egerton uses his skills as a singer, dancer and actor all at once in Dexter Fletcher’s musical. As Elton’s songs bridge the gap between the reality and fantasy, Rocketman instills juxtaposition within a number of scenes as it plays a banging tune along with hardcore drug taking and his downward spiral into addiction.
Starting with the superstar checking into rehab, the film takes a step back in time to tell his story from childhood which he recounts in a group therapy session. It’s in his hometown where we get our first of many musical numbers as young Elton (played by two excellently talented actors, Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor) is introduced in an electric all-singing and all-dancing set piece with The Bitch is Back as accompaniment. From this scene onwards, it deep dives into Elton’s history beginning with his tremulous relationship with his distant father (Steven Mackintosh) and unsupportive mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). Shortly after meeting his parents, we’re treated to another romping and stomping musical number in the form of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. Young Elton transforms into Taron, singing and dancing his way from a pub, to the streets and into a carnival, all in one stunning tracking shot. Dexter Fletcher isn’t afraid to go where is required with a camera, as it bursts through a door and bends down to get through a narrow gap in a fence. It’s these angles which, thanks to cinematographer George Richmond, puts you in the centre of the action and makes you enjoy it even more.
His life is littered with supporting players amongst his parents including his sweet and supportive grandmother (Ivy, played by Gemma Jones), Stephen Graham as record company owner Dick James who dominates each scene he’s in (“I’m gonna have a massage!”) and Producer Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe), the very much naive and excitable person who discovers his talents. It’s not long before he meets Jamie Bell’s Bernie Taupin, his longterm writing partner with whom he immediately strikes up a bond that sees him through his best and worst moments. Bell is perfect in this role as the talented and sympathetic writer who stands by Elton’s side no matter what and who has an instant rapport with Egerton. The pair’s on screen chemistry which can be compared to those who play brothers as they become closer and more in sync. Another significant figure is his lover John Reid played by Richard Madden who is the very epitome of both slimey and seductive. Madden swoops in as potential hero who has other desires in mind. As their relationship grows from occasionally sex to Reid becoming Elton’s lover/manager there’s an increase in the toxicity between them which adds to Elton’s downward spiral into the self loathing he suffered since childhood.
Fletcher has a clear understanding of the narrative he wants to tell by using songs in a particular order. Rather than keeping these tunes in chronological order, he’s places them within the story where they fit best. An enjoyable, fun and hard hitting music biopic which shows the first ever gay sex scene from a major studio and deals with the repercussions of substance abuse. It’s a musical sure, but not like you’ve seen before.
4 out of 5.
Keep. It. Reel.