Rocketman ★★★★

Although it can occasionally veer into conventionality with various beats along the well-worn “hasty ascension to fame and subsequent downfall” storyline, Rocketman truly achieves liftoff when it acts as a showcase for Dexter Fletcher’s fantastical directorial vision and Taron Egerton’s utterly spellbinding lead performance.

The screenplay, written by Lee Hall, frames the film as a life story that John relays in therapy. This readily allows for a variety of flashbacks, hallucinations, and dream sequences that add a distinct flavor to the proceedings. While the film does start off on a rote note as it travels through John’s early domestic troubles and first piano lessons through a rather conventional “artist’s origin story” manner,” it truly comes to life when Egerton makes his debut during the musical number “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”. The film distorts expectations by commiting completely to the trademarks of the magical realism genre, telling John’s story straightforward but adding in musical number asides or plentiful delusions of grandeur. It’s relentlessly refreshing to see the way that John’s endless catalogue is incorporated into events in his life; we don’t merely hear his songs in concert or recording sessions - they punctuate incredibly important points in the plot. Every time Rocketman feels as if it’s veering back into a conventional story beat, a musical number or illusory sequence causes you to see the events in a new light. Hall’s screenplay is also incredibly commendable for its gritty and authentic portrayal of John’s drug-addicted downfall; no details are spared, and there is a rather thoughtful analysis into his own psyche as to what leads to this state of mind in the first place.

Dexter Fletcher clearly had an ambitious vision for Rocketman, and he exuberantly executes it for the world to behold. His staging of the musical sequences and his incorporation of these outlandish scenarios into every day life is continuously inventive. He always finds a novel way to portray the emotions John is feeling at the time; he highlights the allure and delight of fame and first love with a skillfully extravagant scene set to “Honky Cat,” and he likewise delivers with the harsher sentiments as well, setting John’s first suicide attempt to an absolutely stunning rendition of “Rocket Man”. Chris Dickens’ editing is additionally laudable in this scene, where John transitions from being escorted into an ambulance, transported to a hospital room, and finally ending on stage for one of his legendary performances before taking off into space himself. It’s the type of creative spirit that we almost never see in biopics.

Finally, let me gush about the man himself - Taron. Freakin’. Egerton. Not only does he turn in the best performance of his career, but he quite honestly turns in the performance of the year (so far). His enthusiasm and passion for the persona of Elton John is brutally infectious, and he’s insanely engaging in every musical sequence for sure. However, it’s in the heartbreaking dramatic beats of the second act that Egerton truly proves that his performance is no mere impersonation. His dedication to realistically portraying the shattered mental state of John’s drug-addicted self is remarkable, and the pain and loneliness John experiences is beyond palpable to the audience thanks to Egerton’s subtle work (most heartbreakingly realized in his rendition of “Tiny Dancer”). In addition, Egerton has phenomenal chemistry with both Jamie Bell (as John’s legendary songwriter partner Bernie Taupin) and Richard Madden (as John’s manager and lover John Reid). The chemistry between Egerton and Madden leaps off the screen in their first meeting, and it makes their later contentious interactions sting even harder. Egerton never misses a beat throughout the entire film, and he goes out with a bang with a final performance of “I’m Still Standing” that is marvelous and moving beyond words.

Rocketman may not fully transcend its basic biopic trappings, but there is considerable creativity on display here thanks to the talents of Dexter Fletcher and Taron Egerton, and it’s a gloriously terrific, toe-tapping time at the movies no matter what.

2019 Ranked

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