Dir: Dexter Fletcher
Written: Lee Hall
Editing: Chris Dickens
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Running time; 121 mins
Release Date: 2019
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So, Rocketman. Soap from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is a director. It has Jamie Bell and Taron Egerton. Something about it feels like this may have had not much effort put in at the planning stages. Not really any brave decisions. The writer writes musicals with the same cast members, the music guy (Matthew Margeson) writes music for films with the same cast members. It makes one wonder is it going to be paint by numbers?
The answer is a resounding 'no'. It is not nearly that good. When I read that Tom Hardy was originally scoped out for the lead role it became sadly evident that a heavyweight draw like Tom would not have finished a film like this. I think it is unfair to an up and coming talent like Mr Egerton to lumber him with this kind of albatross. He may not be Olivier, but he puts in a performance. That is where he can find one. I guess looking like almost everyone is a bit of a negative sometimes. Not sure why the kid from Press Gang didn't tell him that pursing his lips doesn't make them look thinner a ‘la Elton. He just looked unwavering.
We start with an obligatorily dramatic entrance that is going to serve as a platform to explain the presence of a narrative V.O. In this case a rehab group. Honestly. Starting with a visit to childhood it becomes evident that clichés are going to rule the day. It starts with colourful characters against a dull and dowdy backdrop.... sigh. Then it hits like a bucket of water in the face..."Oh f**k, it’s a musical biopic". My least favourite of all movie types. Still, they are not all going to be Mama Mia...are they? Dot dot fucking dot.
One of Elton’s greatest 21st Century pieces, "I Want Love" is sang in his early life. After the spectacularly brilliant minimalist video for said song, featuring the king of charisma, Robert Downey Jnr, it is acceptably impossible to do it justice so, aside from the anachronistic blotting, it can be forgiven. After a while though, the song/life metaphors are so literally mucky you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching VH1
Furthering the square peg in a round hole dirge we see his relationship with a cold and distant father about who he complains never hugged him. Seriously. Not joking.
Then we are treated to some impressive set pieces. No scrimping. Especially the orchestra for the Rocketman performance. Alas it is on this subject the record skips, and jumps, then jumps back. There is no chronological sense in the songs. There are many great Elton numbers missed out, the young boy playing adolescent Elton, Kit Connor, is very impressive. He holds the role with the awkwardness and lack of extroverted aplomb the young Mr Dwight was said to possess. He carries awkward realisation capably. The excellent Bryce Dallas Howard plays the mother. It is Bryce Dallas Howard so she, by law, must be at least a bit of a bitch. A particularly hilarious scene is humourised when she is being groped by a Teddy-boy in a car and upon discovery chides young Reg/Elton, saying: "What do y0u think you are you doing?" It is amusing, not memorable. After this his textbook father, played by the ever-bored looking Stephen Mackintosh, leaves. To surface clumsily later when it is required to remind us of the closeness issues.
We are shown Elton changing, taking influence from John Lennon (with whom he later performed and briefly lived during John's raucous "lost weekend" and featured on his hit "Whatever Gets You thru the Night") however, it does not mention Brian Wilson, which is somewhat unfair and unrepresentative, especially considering his instrument of choice. His creation of "Your Song" is attempting at being epoch-making and revelatory. In truth it just comes off as cosmetic and slid in.
It is a refreshing change to see a longer period of struggle and progress. Many recent musical biopics (Get on Up, Bohemian Rhapsody) show an almost immediate transformation to opulence. this took a bit more of a journey, to its credit.
A continuance of clichés are thrown at us with a heavy-handed obviousness that makes them feel almost postmodern. Superimposed headlines , drugs, revealing he is gay to a relative only to be told "I know", and a flurry of other spoofed tropes that the director somehow signed off. The lighting is mediocre, and the casually thrown together sets and jolty editing made it feel like the video for "Tonight Tonight" by The Smashing Pumpkins (don't forget the editor did Slumdog.)
For those of us that remember the documentary "Tantrums and Tiaras", it was evident then that this is not a man you will find sympathy for. I was never a huge Elton fan. while I like, make that, love some of his work. some I downright detest. Standard crap like "I'm Still Standing" and "Sacrifice". Yet the same man wrote I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues, Nikita, The Way You Look Tonight, and Candle in the Wind. Go figure. That is the same allegorical extreme of the shy little kid and the pompous little prick from said documentary.
Sad to say this is a fail. What makes it even more distasteful is the many unfair leaps taken with the truth Mostly regarding Elton's father as a militaristic, cold man and Dick James (portrayed by the lamentably ubiquitous Stephen Graham) as an abusive East-End misogynist homophobic yob. Two unfair and undeserving aspects of a film that could be forgiven had they taken the ball and ran with it. They chose instead to make something so predictable that it would have been more honourable to be truthful and boring rather than toxic and tedious. The family of Dick James and Stan Dwight were rightfully very displeased with this.
Not as good as Bohemian Rhapsody (not that it is much of a standard) and in no way deserving the plaudits it got. The clumsily inserted wedding that felt so inorganic it was the post-production version of taping the charts on a Sunday on a prerecorded cassette with Sellotape over the protector tabs. The festooning of place-holder dialogue and poor Richard Madden's daft lines preventing his talent from absorbing the character he played are just a few things that just disappoints. Same goes for the soppy derivative ending. Finding an old piano and...Good lord it was unimaginative. Think for yourselves people. The British film making industry is better than this.