‘Rocketman’ Does What ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Tried

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On Such a Timeless Flight

Rocketman is a fantastical journey that makes you want to believe life is a musical. There is no other way to do a telling of Sir Elton John’s life and you don’t even realize it until you are watching Rocketman. This is a musical people, that is what it is and I am not the biggest fan of musicals. I watch them, I sat through 2012 Le Misérable when it came out, actually enjoyed LaLa Land (for the relationship storyline and accuracy of the world of actors , not the white guy saves Jazz music narrative…) Plus who can resist Disney’s serenades…no one, but I am not the one to run to the theater for three hours of story songs, or turn on Mama Mia when I’m sitting at home thinking of a flick to watch. Needless to say, I was not prepared as I sat in the movie theater and the first moment was a full-on overture with young Elton singing his heart out. I said… OH! And then settled in.

Once I realized where I was and remembered who this film was about, how could I have thought it would be anything else!? A musical through and through from the interpersonal soliloquy song after a close-up monologue to the extensively choreographed song and dance at a carnival with the full chorus line. In my household, I am the one who almost turns off the film once the overture song begins, this, on the other hand, caught me off guard and then I was on this rollercoaster ride and singing along the whole time.

And I think it’s Gonna Be a Long Long time

If Bohemian Rhapsody had done this the world would have been a better place for the Freddie Mercury fans (meaning everyone). Rocketman Director Dexter Fletcher gave everything for this film and could have made Bohemian Rhapsody skyrocket as well. Although Singer got the main directing credit on Bohemian Rhapsody, it was Dexter Fletcher who was asked to come in and finish what singer had done. I am sure Fletcher did his best because if he had been on from day one – we would have seen a Queen story that not only gave us a different Freddie but honored him with a musical tribute worthy of his greatness.

Rocketman takes you from the beginnings of one Reginald Kenneth Dwight to the rise of the sensational Elton Hercules John, (yes middle name Hercules I didn’t know that part either until this film). As some musicals do, this film had a theme of family, found and blood and being truly who you are. I admired this simplicity because it also gave you a different side of those classic storylines, in a way it subverted them.

There are always messages of “Be Yourself” or “Be Who You Are Destined To Be”! Yet what of the messages that actually affirm you choosing to be you, after following the path of being what others want for you? What of the messages that actually affirm you choosing to be you when you’ve followed down the path of being what is anti-you and find out the real you is in there–and learn what parts of your self you need to embrace, on your own time? Perhaps you’re reading this review and think that you’ve seen this story before, but trust me you haven’t-_not set to Elton John songs and seeing the inner workings of his talented mind.

The film finds a way to tell a story through song that just words could never do. We see the fantasy in a geniuses mind that can be transformative, inspiring and also a nightmare prison. They do not shy away from the drugs, the partying the rock n’ roller ride as many musicians took part in at that time (and still do). Visually engaging we see flying numbers, floating on ecstasy and drowning in self anguish. Literally, characters floating in the sky recreating some of Elton’s electric performances behind and on pianos.

I’m Not the Man They Think I Am at Home

The performances were off the charts, at times unexpected and never a wavering moment. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elton’s unapologetically, mentally scaring mother Sheila Eileen. Howard’s character was a condescending self-interested mother who never seemed to want what was best for her son, but was fine if he did well because it would help her in the end. Her performance was great, she made me uncomfortable, which I am sure was the point giving the audience the feeling of being in young Elton’s shoes – also she can sing! Who knew?

All of the child actors were phenomenal, specifically younger Reginald (Elton) played by newcomer Matthew Illesley. Talk about perfect casting, a side by side of this young boy and Elton John as a child and I would believe that they are legit twins. As the first of the young Reginald to grace the screen, he was devastatingly good, this young star is breaking into the industry with this role and kudos, he’s got that power.

The shocking performance of the film was non-other than Rob Stark yes, Richard Madden (Robert Stark of Game of Thrones fame) plays John Reid, Elton’s love interest and unforgivable manager towards the end. Every rockstar biopic has that moment of betrayal… well, several moments of betrayal and Madden’s character is at the crux of several betrayals. He arrives on the screen and your face turns sideways. Then he gives a sly grin and you say ROB? And then he makes the bedroom eyes with Elton and you’re like ROOBB? And then he SINGS! And you’re like ROOOOOBBBB!!! He has a wonderful voice, he is so convincing as that opportunist manager guy who uses all his talents to get what he needs. Obviously, I’ve been underestimating him and his range, but I was surprised.

Then there’s the Sonnie to Elton’s Cher, songwriter Bernie Taupin played by Jamie Bell (2015’s Fantastic Four, The Thing). You may recognize him as Edgar from Snowpiercer or even Jimmy, the novice adventurer who other characters take under their wing in the Peter Jackson directed King Kong. Taupin compliments the movie in so many wonderful ways, he is that ride or die friend, and his character immediately establishes that riding and dying isn’t an option so he does all he can to ride for life and he does. His voice is great as well, his overall presence is a match made in heaven for this role. Their friendship is one to aspire to. Taupin is the writer for all of the hits we know and love, and Elton the composer. Of course, they wrote together in perfect tandem because each knew their artistic strengths. I truly enjoyed the way the film displayed true collaboration, something music biopics don’t always get right.

The one relationship in the narrative that really gets you in the feels and brings a tear to your eye is the one with Elton’s father. This relationship is the one that dictates the rest of Elton’s experiences in the film. The effect his father’s absence had on his mother made her actions affect the household and his lack of physical connection and bitterness towards his son is at the center of Elton’s decisions. Elton’s father Stanley is played expertly by, Steven Mackintosh (DCI Ian Reed of Luther). There is a moment where you see just how much of separation there was between the two and the reality of it all hits your heart hard.

Oh No No No I’m a Rocket Man

And finally, the moment we have all been waiting for the star of the show, Taron Egerton as Elton John. You know sometimes stars are born for a role like Robert Downey Jr and Iron Man, Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool then Targon Egerton as Elton John. When I heard Egerton would be playing Elton, I thought who else and after seeing the film it is confirmed no one else. Egerton gives a stunning performance through his dancing, his transformation and of course his singing. We knew he could do it, I am convinced they called him in because of his vocal performance in the animated film Sing. (I really think people slept on that movie as it is phenomenal, I cried – I digress.)

I fell in love with Egerton as Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin in the Kingsmen films and now we are getting to see what he is really made of in regards to his strengths as an actor. Let’s be honest, this isn’t a story of triumph over outside a mountain of obstacles, Elton’s life wasn’t one of extreme poverty or abuse. He had opportunity and musical genius and the resources to explore it, so the moments of pain and the emotional journey was to convey was very insular. Watching Egerton do this but out loud was riveting. He made it look fun and personally torturous at the same time.

Rocket Man Burning Out His Fuse Up Here Alone

There is a moment in the story where Elton’s mother – in a malicious way calls him “lucky” which made me think. It is a bit true, there were many moments where the cards laid out in his favor, he was seen and given opportunity more often than not. Maybe it was the viewpoint they decided to show, but the hardships were really in Elton finding himself. As the pace of the film races on you find yourself thinking, is this all true, is this how it happened? But then thinking, it doesn’t really matter. Whether they left things out or catered a certain view, it was great storytelling and a tribute to the birth of a genius entertainer and musician.

There’s certainly a better handling of Elton John’s life story, including his sexuality that wasn’t done for Freddy Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. It was handled better because it was more natural and presented it as part of who Elton is rather than the disjointed telling in Bohemian Rhapsody. The handling of that in this film that makes the execution of Rocketman fly far and nail its landing, making it not only a treat to watch but a tribute to the real-life superstar, Sir Elton John, himself.

See Rocketman in theaters and be ready to sing along for sure.

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  • Aisha Jordan bio: Actor, Writer, Arts Administrator. I am a movie nerd. Born and raised, action and adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, cartoon enthusiast, and aficionado. Raised by a Trekkie mom in a world of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Lord of the Rings. Foundation in social justice theater and playing in the nerd and entertainment world.

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  • CParis

    Great review. I really enjoyed the film, too! Bright, beautifully acted and full of those great songs.

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