Taron Egerton pours heart and soul playing Elton John in Dexter Fletcher's hyperactive, familiar but consistently entertaining biopic of the legendary musician.
You can throw in factually accurate out the window as well. At some point, after Elton hits it big with his 1969 debut single "Your Song," a record exec tells him it's the best thing he's heard since "Let It Be." Problem is that Beatles classic only actually came out a year after the John hit, in 1970.
Quite unsubtly, the film hammers down its message at its very start, when John starts singing his hit "I Want Love," it’s a family affair, as the whole clan from his mother to grandmother chime in with their own sung verses. And, indeed, this is a movie about a man that had no affection in life. Not even from his first gay lover and initial manager John Reid (Richard Madden).
I don't think Fletcher really cared about being "accurate," no, he'd rather focus on the spirit of John's personality and music. There's Elton as a young tyke (played by Matthew Illesley) an outcast that decides to learn piano and abide by the rebellious rock n roll spirit of his hero Elvis Presley. There's Elton the teenager, where he meets his future longtime collaborator and songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Finally, there's adult Elton, a man caught up in his own success, but also his disavowing embarrassment at being a closeted homosexual, which leads to a close-to-deadly drug and alcohol addiction.
And yet, it’s his friendship with Taupin that rings truest and most honestly. John admits that for the first twenty years of their collaborative friendship, the pair never fought. An astounding fact due to John’s obvious disaccord with anyone that approached him during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Egerton and Bell play these scenes quite sweetly, depicting the special nature of their experiences together as nothing short of sacred.
It's all driven by musical numbers which wouldn't be far removed from Baz Lhurmann's "Moulin Rouge." The kind of frenetic, over-the-top and giddily rendered numbers which can't help but get you tapping your toes and singing along to the tunes. And there are lots of them. I won't name every song used by Fletcher in the film but there must have been about two dozen of them.
Like many rock biopics involving artists that lived excessively, the film's trajectory can sometimes feel a little too familiar. No wonder then that "Rocketman" can't sustain the frenetic energy of its first 90. Once John starts debilitating himself with substances you start to feel pummelled by the film's bummerisms, the starts start to appear less often and the giddy joy Egerton brought on-screen is replaced by downerisms. After all, watching Egerton's John flamboyantly dressed, with a different costume practically every scene, with wide eyed optimism for his music, is what grabs our attention in the first place, not Dexter Fletcher’s glitzy filmmaking or the purposely preposterous script by Lee Hall.
Egerton, the 29-year-old British born actor best known for the ‘Kingsmen’ movies, delivers an energetic and dead-on performance. He doesn’t just nail Elton’s look, but the mannerisms as well, the flamboyant and raucous spirit of a man that seems to have been given more than a few chances to live in life. If Hall’s screenplay manages to pile in the cliches to the nth degree, it’s Egerton that deserves all the credit. Oh, and the songs of course, what glorious, timeless songs. [B-]