Rocketman ★★★½

"Real love's hard to come by, so you find a way to cope without it."

It's times like these when you wish Bohemian Rhapsody just never got made.

I didn't hate the movie, I liked the silly parts and had a good time watching and rocking out. If I saw it again, I'd like it less. But the problem is, at least for a while, the about-to-be-crowded subgenre of musical biopics will no doubt have that point of comparison in the foreseeable future. And thus, we have Rocketman, the next musical biopic that is unquestionably better.

Taron Egerton stars as the Rocketman himself, Elton John, née Reginald Kenneth Dwight, in the "true fantasy" film directed by Dexter Fletcher about the eponymous singer's rise to stardom. From his early life as kid Reggie getting into the Royal Academy of Music with a brilliant mind and ear, to finding his own voice (and name), we see Elton's career and personal life through rose-colored -- and pretty much every other color too -- glasses and elaborate costumes. As he balances fame with talent and opportunity, internal revelations of his sexuality reveal a tortured soul who chases away demons with addictive behaviors. With the help of his longtime partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) in lyric/songwriting and production, Elton has plenty of chances to turn away from debauchery but manager John Reid (Richard Madden) keeps pulling him back in to sex, drugs, and a reckless lifestyle. While we all know the legendary performer will come out on top, seeing it in this fashion brings new light to his one-of-a-kind story.

While at times the trajectory of the tale feels like another episode of Behind the Music -- through a cynic's eyes, a three-act structure with the usual ups and downs of a rockstar -- the interjection of musical numbers in something of a twist in magical realism make for great breaks from one scene to the next. Those interludes are spectacular fun, with great production and set design as choreographers had full range to take advantage of Egerton's quite impressive singing voice and presence. Some new twists on classic tracks were lovely. Even though I knew this going in, I do have to stress: this is a freaking musical, like really a musical, not just a musical biopic, so you probably need to enjoy dancing and singing and almost a Broadway feel to get into this thing. Indeed, I'd be shocked not to see a stage production of Rocketman in pre-production already.

While the "true fantasy" can make you doubt the veracity of the film, at least it's true to Elton's sexuality. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this is the first major studio film to depict gay male sex on-screen. Hm. That sounds like a big deal! This reviewer enjoys many independent and foreign films though so this feels, like, well this must have been done already. But hey, I'm all for inclusion. I'm the kind of guy who wears a Notorious RBG t-shirt to movies like this, so, no shock there. Apparently the film was censored in Russia though. Well, go fuck yourself, Russia.

Sure, there's some silliness here, and the creative production in which the real Elton John had a part can lead to a little bit of wondering what's real and what's invented. But hell, the fantastical elements here fit so well and stay true enough to just how the film was branded. Also, again, the makeup, hairstyling, and costumes are outstanding, and are sure-fire Oscar contenders next winter.

Rocketman is a rockin' good time, and would have been even moreso if the theatre wasn't filled with literally three people tonight. Meh. Fine, I'll see Godzilla tomorrow.

Added to The Best Narrative Films of 2019.
Added to 2020 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.

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