Rocketman ★★½

It’s practically a given by now: Rock star biopics where the emphasis is on the many lows and pitfalls, to the point where the hero has lost his humanity before he gets it back in a jiffy. Elton John was never one of my favorite musicians, but I learned to like a lot about him even though he’s in the pits for most of the time in Rocketman. Taron Edgerton has never been an actor I’ve liked at all, judging on the basis of his callous “Kingsman” and sequel efforts, but I changed my mind quite early. I think Edgerton becomes a star by the time his shy Elton John is called onto stage at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, a venue that is too famous and too big for him. Elton gets a slo-mo that makes him look cool but at the same time we feel the tremulous shaking going on inside him. He’s not ready yet to be a star. Nonetheless, the music bursts out, and wham, it’s one of many special acting moments by Edgerton – I now could see myself looking forward to what the actor does next.

However, it didn’t take me long to see that this is a biopic that feels the urge to rush past the musical numbers – yes, rush past the music – just to get back to the psychological showdowns between Elton and a half dozen other characters, never sputtering more than when his manager/lover hurts him repeatedly. Every time the movie has a chance to really soar and take my heart with it, the self-debasement kicks in. At least with that relentless aspect in “The Doors,” the debauchery was exciting. Here, it’s a non-stop domino of low points.

I can’t believe we got short-changed here on the actual music, and the creation of the music that seemed to pop out of Elton’s head is a little too wish-fulfillment to me. Of course he was a musical genius, and the movie is being economical by letting us know that he could be at a party and think up music in his head on the spot – but the movie is also being a little thrifty there. Still, as displeased I am that music was not the true emphasis, “Rocketman” is not a cinematic embarrassment for there is some kind of cohesive craftsmanship on display that wasn’t apparent in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

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