Rocketman: launch or misfire?

We would like to welcome and thank Trip Fontaine for writing this feature post.

Take it away Trip!

On the surface, there will be many comparisons between Rocketman, opening May 31, starring Taron Egerton as Elton John, and last year’s box office hit Bohemian Rhapsody, which starred Rami Malek in his Academy Award winning performance as Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury. These are obvious comparisons: biopic, 1970’s-1980’s time period, flamboyant musical superstar, struggles with sexuality, well-known and infectious tunes, tragedy and triumph. While that seems like a lot of similarities,Rocketman takes a very different path than the otherwise straightforward recapping of life events likeBohemian Rhapsody.

It is right in the tagline on the posters of Rocketman: “Based on a True Fantasy.” This film is a rousing, jukebox musical with Elton John’s songs weaving in as the story unfolds, infusing the various set-pieces with emotion, depth and ultimately a lot of entertainment. If you are expecting a biopic, forget it. Start thinking musical. The characters sing to each other in Elton’s songs. For example, there is a sequence where Elton, his mom, grandmother and estranged father are sitting in separate parts of the family home singing to the audience. Another sequence is when Elton stalks through a party singing “Tiny Dancer”. These fantasy sequences use the laundry list of hits to uniquely tell this story that could have been another been-there-done-that movie.

Taron Egerton, who is best known for the Kingsman movies, brings a brash energy to his portrayal of Elton John. Egerton has a great voice and he does an admirable job suggesting John’s singing voice without trying to be a carbon-copy. The performance goes from young, vibrant, talented and arrogant to balding, isolated, and damaged, struggling with fame; and, Egerton hits every note just right without missing some of the humor in it all. He seems to be having a ton of fun show up in crazier and crazier costumes, some very iconic. While the film is a showcase for Egerton, the remainder of the cast is uniformly good, including Jamie Bell as John’s writing partner, Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden, who best known from Game of Thrones, and Bryce Dallas Howard, as John’s mom. And, they all sing!

Now, the film does get a little episodic as it goes along though it never feels like it is dragging. The plot points are still there like any other straightforward biopic. Plus, you know Elton John survives in the end and continues to be successful and respected. If people breaking out in song in the middle of a scene puts you off, then maybe be cautious about going to the theater on this one, but I really think that it is worth at the very least a matinee price because the makers of Rocketman really were thoughtful about putting the greatness of Elton John front and center in using his music as punctuation to the man’s life story. For Elton fans, musical fans, and for anyone desperate to see people try something new with stale formulas,Rocketman is worth the money.