With a deep catalog of iconic songs at its disposal, Rocketman perhaps appropriately resembles a feature-length music video celebrating Elton John’s prolific chart-topping career.
Although it never really takes off like some great musical biopics, this crowd-pleasing odyssey affectionately captures the colorful flamboyance of its star while downplaying some of the more painful personal details. It is authorized by the singer, after all.
The story begins with his 1960s London upbringing, when he becomes a piano prodigy and develops a taste for bluesy rock music. Yet he never wins the approval of his parents, which continues to haunt him throughout his career.
As he comes out and grows comfortable with his sexual identity, Elton (Taron Egerton) launches his career in partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who becomes his closest confidante for decades.
Amid some anachronisms, the film chronicles his dynamic American debut at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles. Afterward, Elton is emotionally ill-equipped to handle the meteoric rise to worldwide stardom, which spirals into chronic depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, failed relationships, and personal squabbles during the height of his fame.
Credit director Dexter Fletcher, who also stepped in late to clean up the messy production of the recent Bohemian Rhapsody, for some imaginative musical sequences that are both playful and painful. From the titular hit to lesser known cuts, Fletcher’s ability to connect the tunes to Elton’s life story turn the film into an evocative fantasia.
Meanwhile, Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) doesn’t look or sound much like Elton — and he’ll never replicate the vocal dexterity, of course — but his fully committed portrayal wonderfully encapsulates the star’s essence by more than just mimicking his speech or mannerisms.
While the first hour relies largely on montage storytelling through a visual medley of Elton’s early hits, the second hour digs deeper into his personal demons, and the way in which his colorful stage presence masks his vulnerabilities and insecurities behind the scenes. However, the film stumbles as a cautionary tale about the perils of celebrity, due in part to an ill-conceived framing device set in a recovery program.
Although it isn’t especially audacious or provocative, Rocketman functions as a valentine of sorts from Elton to the underappreciated Bernie. Plus, it gives fans what they want — a somewhat superficial opportunity to salute a showman whose legacy will rightfully endure long beyond his ongoing farewell tour.