Movies From Swank: Rocketman

Will SorgMovies Guy

Fame and its effects on people seem to be one of humanity’s great interests. When it comes to movies, it seems that we are especially fond of the stories surrounding musical legends. A movie about the life of a rock star has been done so many times that there is even the hilarious parody film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. That movie mercilessly pokes fun at the common tropes like needlessly overbearing addiction arcs and the ever-present “where are they now?” epilogues that exist in pretty much every music biopic ever made. Elton John is not immune to the cliche rock star biopic, in fact, it could be said that the famed British performer’s story could only really work within that framework. I say this not as an insult but more as a compliment. 

Elton John’s life as portrayed in Rocketman is done in the most Elton John way possible. The film starts with Elton, played by Taron Egerton, strutting into a building in a full concert costume, complete with wings and horns. The building is revealed to be where an AA meeting is taking place, and before we even fully get situated in our setting, the film has burst into song and dance, and Elton has traveled back in time to his childhood, where he finishes his musical number with his younger self. The framing device of the story being told at an AA meeting at one of the low points of the main character’s life is a really effective way to draw the audience in. In addition to this, the setting’s almost immediate shift into the very beginning of Elton’s life is perfect as it sets the audience’s expectations for a fantastical and quickly-paced musical adventure. 

Now here’s the thing. Rocketman, as I mentioned earlier, treads a lot of the same ground as most other biopics. It has a very good reason for that; Elton John’s struggle for sobriety was a major source of conflict in his life, and much of the musical numbers recounting his rise to fame seem to be there to give context to the more thematic and entertaining scenes. What the basic storytelling frame gives the film is a chance to experiment with its form. The film is a lot more dreamy and fantastical than your average biopic; you will see Egerton flying at least twice throughout the film, and the musical numbers are incredibly reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood and its extravagant musical epics. This less-grounded approach to telling a story also works wonderfully when portraying Elton John’s addiction, as the film is edited in a way that disorients the viewer along with our main character to put us through his perspective of constant dissociation. 

Taron Egerton absolutely nails the role of Elton, he doesn’t simply imitate as so many actors do when embodying a real person. Instead, it feels as though Elton John is a fictional character like any other film protagonist, and Egerton adds his own intentionality and quirks to the role. Outside of the lead performance, there are honestly not very many standouts; many of the other actors feel like background noise compared to the star attraction, and overall sound quite grating when they sing. However, that really almost accentuates how this film is really only about one thing: Elton John. The film is a larger-than-life, spectacle-filled, glam show, and it knows exactly what it is. This film embodies Elton John as a person: it’s an R-rated, unrelenting pop jukebox musical that knows how to have fun and definitely goes for broke.