Musical biopics in and of themselves are a fairly lame affair. If you’ve ever seen the comedy “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” it completely skewers the genre into nothing more than a laughable, self-aggrandizing rise and fall story. There have been many films that fall victim to the simple plot machinations of drugs versus redemption as the artist in question reflects over their entire life. Lately, musicals depicting the lives of pop stars have been en vogue, fresh in all of our heads are films like “A Star Is Born,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and even stranger outings like “Vox Lux.” All of these films have a vision, yet something in them all rings false. None of these works truly reckon with the psychology of somebody with such an atypical lifestyle. At least the highly anticipated Elton John biopic “Rocketman” makes an attempt, even though the results hit many crescendos that feel a tad shallow.
The Dexter Fletcher-directed film takes a straight-up musical approach, in lieu of a more jukebox take. The story of Elton John that the film choses to tell, a story acted out convincingly by Taron Egerton, is more of a story of self discovery than a story of redemption. We meet Elton as a young boy named Reginald Dwight who is a natural at the piano, but is shy and is has zero support from his mother, Shiela (Bryce Dallas Howard) or his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh). He’s looking to shed his name and discover a new identity so he can forget those who didn’t love him and please the fans who will.
We’re taken through the story through famous songs from John’s catalogue like “Tiny Dancer,” “Your Song” and “I’m Still Standing,” songs that become kinetic musical numbers with visually inventive set pieces that dabble in magical realism. The songs played in the film are taken from a decade or so span in John’s career, and at the center of all that is his relationship with songwriter Bernie (Jamie Bell) that becomes the emotional core of the film.
There’s a burst of onscreen creativity that attempts to put the audience right in John’s platform shoes and in doing so give them a sense of how he’s feeling and thinking in each given moment. Egerton sings and dances to the choreography with an ease that’s completely natural from beat to beat. He provides a glitter-soaked performance from start to finish, embracing the flamboyance and wearing it with pride.
As John’s star has begun to rise, his cocaine and alcohol addiction has become abundant as he’s on the search for love that lasts longer than a roman candle. Clouded by his drug dependency, he gets involved romantically and professional with nefarious manager John Reid (Richard Madden,) in a relationship that’s depicted as sexy and a bit dangerous. “Rocketman” never shies away from John’s sexuality, and doesn’t bat an eye in its depiction towards the audience.
Parts of the film follows a formula that’s a bit off key with the rest, and the otherwise well-paced and effervescent film drags in the middle, with concert montages and the passage of time that’s unearned within the scope of the film. It comes a point where the predicability sets in, but Egerton’s performance is what keeps the rhythm.
Films like “Rocketman” should be taken at face value. They were never going to change the world, and this musical biopic wasn’t looking to break new ground from a technical standpoint. However, the film is a film looking to embrace a wide audience to provide something familiar, yet with an inventiveness to its production that allows the final product to be an enjoyable piece of Elton John fan service. Overall, the message of “Rocketman” is one of celebration. It’s a film that urges viewers to look back at their past and to accept the things that change.