'Rocketman' film review: Bold, vibrant musical worthy of the music icon
With a stellar lead performance, breathtaking energy and a story anchored completely in its protagonist, "Rocketman" (opening in theaters nationwide May 31) is one of the very best biopics in years.
Egerton's hold-nothing-back turn as Elton John is everything of a Best Actor contender. He utterly channels Elton John the bold performer -- but more importantly, Egerton's performance is rooted in Reginald Kenneth Dwight, the insecure man beneath the crazy sunglasses and feathered outfits. Egerton can flash the confident smile of an international superstar one moment - and in the very next beat, radiate deep heartache and loneliness. The performance never feels like a crass impersonation - Edgerton walks the line between famed rock star and troubled artist.
Director Dexter Fletcher - who stepped in complete filming for "Bohemian Rhapsody" after Bryan Singer left the film - clearly learned what not to do from "Rhapsody" and applied all the best lessons to "Rocketman." The biopic genre ... is generally not a strong genre -- some movie usually pushes character from historical point to historical point. They're usually not stories - they're glorified re-enactments of Wikipedia biographies. But Fletcher's "Rocketman" is a vibrant and slightly surreal trip that works because John's meteoric ascension to super stardom is a crazy ride that warrants an equally unconventional spin. A straightforward biopic could not tell John's story with any justice - rather, it takes an impressionistic musical that sometimes blurs reality and fantasy to grasp John's innermost feelings. The film chooses emotional truth over literal truth - and it works brilliantly.
Elton John's iconic discography is mined precisely for the exact lyrics that speak to the heart of each scene. It's very strange and exciting to hear slight inversions of time-tested, beloved songs and make it feel like hearing them for the first time. The film weaves genuine exhilaration into scenes where John "discovers" the song - these scenes feel like watching sincere inspiration unfold in real time.
Many lesser films have been anchored by a great lead performances or infectious song selection (*cough* "Bohemian Rhapsody") but "Rocketman" is, at its core, a story of a man reconciling where the artist and the performance begin and end. Identity is perhaps the strongest foundation any film can be rooted in - and a great performance and incisive screenplay unpacks the inner conflict between Reginald and Elton. What the film lacks in a clear easy-to-describe plot, it makes up for with a compelling character journey - it's a man trying to come to terms with an inner longing. Yes the film captures the transformation of a shy piano prodigy to drug-addled, unstable 70s rocker -- but "Rocketman" remains constantly grounded in Elton's journey as a man in search of love, and being rejected at every turn.
If there's one major failing of "Rocketman" that denies it perfection, it comes with the usual trappings of a biopic: specifically, very lame exposition. Film is a visual medium - yet, the script sometimes has to take obligatory stops to explain just how famous or rich he has become. Exposition is lazy storytelling, but at least "Rocketman" uses it sparingly.
Final verdict: This is a film worth of and as boisterous as the legendary musician. Taron Egerton truly is the music legend with one of the best performances of 2019 in this fantastical and electrifying musical.
"Rocketman" opens in theaters nationwide May 31. This musical drama has a running time of 121 minutes and is rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.