Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Lee Hall
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
I spent the better part of Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic “Rocketman” on the edge of my seat, my senses heightened and the world around me shut out. My body tingled with excitement over Taron Egerton’s performance and Elton John’s music filling the theater.
Lee Hall, who shared a Tony nomination with John for their original score to “Billy Elliot the Musical” penned the eponymous musician’s story. “Rocketman” opens up with Egerton in a full costume as if he’s going on stage, a blinding light behind him creates a halo effect as he rushes toward the camera, only to break into an AA meeting, where he confesses all of his vices. Fletcher and Hall then start us on a backward journey through John’s childhood.
Born Reggie Dwight, “Rocketman” takes us back to his younger days with a mum who was coldly dispassionate and an absent dad who, before the war, doted on his son. Matthew Illesley plays the younger Reggie with a reserved panache as he sets about a piano and instantly replicates the music he’s just heard.
In between the musical numbers is a deep, trauma of a musician who never had the power to be himself, held back by absent parents through no fault of his own. Enter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). On a chance encounter, the two find one another; Bernie a lyricist and Reggie a musician who couldn’t find the words to match his music.
Fletcher spends a good deal of time in “Rocketman” building up Reggie’s prodigal nature as a way to define his problems as an adult. Fame and fortune really didn’t get the best of John when he first took off. The performance at the Troubadour in swinging L.A. in the early 70’s really drove home John’s ability to draw and entertain a crowd. The sequence leading up to his performance is full of nerves and humor, a great deal of which is broken up by Tate Donovan’s Doug Weston, the flamboyant manager of the Troubadour.
When he gets on stage, Taron Egerton as John is absolutely magnetic. You can see the power in not only his singing and performing, but in the dramatic flair he adds to make the onscreen character his own.
The Troubadour sequence is also a pivotal moment in the lives of Bernie and John as well as the introduction to the delicious John Reid played by Richard Madden who eventually becomes Elton’s business manager as well as partner. The relations that Fletcher chose to show are tastefully done and shouldn’t put anyone off. The passion between the two characters and the actors oozes right off the screen.
So too does John’s descent into a pit of alcohol and drugs. The drama related to the “rock n’ roll’ personae blends into the musical performances and the characters’ antics, so much so that it becomes unambiguous. You still feel the raw emotion from Egerton’s performance as he comes to terms with who he is and his place in the world.
“Rocketman” stumbles just a bit balancing the drama with the musical numbers, but Taron Egerton’s Oscar-worthy performance will have you taking flight.
3 out of 4 stars