Will Taron Egerton follow in Rami Malek’s footsteps and land an Oscar (or at least a nomination) for his performance in Rocketman? Like Malek, Egerton completely embraced his inner rock star and transformed into a musical icon. Unlike Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, Egerton performs the songs featured in Rocketman. Both Malek and Egerton delivered riveting performances, and you’d really be hard-pressed to come up with a legitimate reason Egerton doesn’t deserve the same awards recognition as Malek received.
Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody have a lot in common, not the least of which is director Dexter Fletcher. Dexter Fletcher stepped in to direct Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was fired from the Freddie Mercury biopic. How much did his time on that project influence his vision for Rocketman, if at all? What is clear, particularly with Rocketman, is that Fletcher understands how to honor beloved musicians while also entertaining the audience.
Musical biopics all seem to take the same approach to immortalizing their subjects on screen. First, provide a little backstory on the subject’s childhood. Second, lay out the key points of their struggles to break into the music business. Next, spend a decent amount of time delving into the artist’s inner turmoil as he/she attempts to embrace their individuality while contractually bound to perform. And, finally, a period of substance abuse and/or mental health issues will ultimately lead to a more mature, even somber, artist coming to terms with life and vanquishing their inner demons – or at least learning to keep them at bay.
The 2019 dive into the life of Sir Elton John goes through the usual paces, following the tried and true biopic format. However, Rocketman does mix things up a bit by revealing Elton John’s troubled upbringing via a desperate Elton describing his life during a group session at a rehab facility. Dressed in an outlandish devil costume complete with massive wings, Elton confesses his deepest secrets to this group of strangers after realizing professional help’s necessary in order to wrest control of his life back from addictive substances and negative influences.
Elton takes the group, and thus the audience, on a trip down the yellow brick road, touching on key moments in his life accentuated with fabulously choreographed numbers of some of his biggest hits. Elton’s introduction to the man who’ll become his long-time songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin (an outstanding Jamie Bell), shows the budding artist at his most exuberant and hopeful. Darker days loom as Elton meets business manager John Reid (Richard Madden, mastering the art of sleaziness), the man who’ll betray and abuse him both physically and emotionally.
It’s heartbreaking to learn his mother (a scenery-chewing Bryce Dallas Howard) had this man who’s loved worldwide convinced he was doomed to go through life alone. It’s equally moving to watch as Elton struggles with having to remain in the closet and hide his personal life from the public.
Elton John’s life isn’t whitewashed or glamorized. Wild orgies, drunken stupors, and days disappearing in a haze of drugs; this biopic exposes the all-too-frequently seedy underside of fame. Fortunately, Rocketman shows there are also moments of pure joy. The scene featuring Elton’s first appearance in America at the famed Troubadour in Los Angeles dips into fantasy as Elton literally floats above the piano. Elton’s realization of how his music affects people is beautifully rendered and magical.
It must have been intimating for Taron Egerton to attempt to channel Sir Elton John, but any extra weight he felt stepping into Elton John’s fabulous shoes isn’t evident in Rocketman. Egerton delivers a flawless performance and steers clear of attempting to mimic Elton. Egerton embodies the spirit rather than the exact physicality of Sir Elton John.
I confess when Taron Egerton was announced I couldn’t picture him in the role. The Kingsman and Eddie the Eagle star didn’t give off an Elton John vibe. Good thing I never had ambitions of being a casting director as my instincts in this case were completely wrong. Egerton was the perfect choice and if anyone doesn’t believe that’s so, Sir Elton John himself confirms Egerton nailed it. And he should know better than anyone.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
Release Date: May 31, 2019
Running Time: 121 minutes