Review: 'Rocketman' is not your ordinary biopic!

27 May 2019
Chad St. James
Categories: Film + TV, Arts + Culture

Rocketman is not your ordinary biopic. This is revealed in its opening moments as Taron Egerton perfectly channels Elton John's voice and mannerisms bursting into a therapy session dressed in a giant winged devil's costume covered in sequins. What follows is one hell of ride detailing the music legend's rise to stardom in one epic musical fantasy.

With biopics of two of the world's greatest queer musical legends being released within a year of each other, it's no surprise that both films will be compared to each other. Yes, Bohemian Rhapsody was a box office hit that broke records and received countless awards. However, its biggest criticisms were its historical inaccuracies and how it treated Freddie Mercury's sexuality and HIV diagnosis. The biggest reason for this was due to Mercury dying in 1991 leaving his story to be told through the lens of the people that were around him, predominantly his bandmates who consulted on the making of the film.

As a result, we got a heteronormative take on a queer historical figure whose sexuality, for the most part, was treated as villainous and a tool to provide discourse and drama to move the plot along. This is where Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman differs, and this is because Elton John worked for years to have his story made for the big screen, and ultimately not only do you get his story, but you get it told through his own eyes.

It's a framing device that works perfectly to tell the film's narrative that sees Egerton's take onscreen take of the singer sharing his story through a series of flashbacks and musical numbers. Yes, you read that right, Rocketman while it is a biopic is also a musical. And it works brilliantly!

From its first musical number, Rocketman shows that it is not going to be a film that tells how Elton created each song that makes up the extensive catalogue of hits that made him a music legend. Instead, in much the same way as movies like Across The Universe, it uses them as a tool to illustrate his journey and move the narrative along. Charting John's rise to success from a young musical prodigy, his partnership with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), his romantic relationship with manager John Reid (Richard Madden) to his eventual addiction and breakdown.

We're provided with plenty of reasons that led to the point that we see him recounting his life during a group therapy session in rehab. His dysfunctional and cruel parents, the loveless relationship with Reid, the effects of drugs and alcohol to cope with the constant performing and the overall rockstar lifestyle of the 70s and 80s. What makes Rocketman relatable is it doesn't hold back on the flaws in his behaviour that at times paints the icon in an unsavoury light, it holds him accountable for it and in doing so delivers a message of forgiveness, friendship, and self-acceptance.

While at times the film's ability to mix genres and styles create a visual feast, it's the performances that really make the film work. There's no denying Taron Egerton's take on Elton will go down as a career-defining role for the actor. From his ability to capture the singer's mannerisms so perfectly proves he's the only one who could have portrayed the icon so authentically. While the rest of the film is brilliantly cast, the film truly shines because of Egerton's performance. Add the fact he also sung all his own songs, without a doubt, we can expect to see his name nominated for numerous awards.

Rocketman is a fun ride with a lot of heart behind it. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and praise the film's ability in authentically addressing queer themes for a mainstream audience. Underneath all the sex, cocaine, glitter, and musical numbers, Rocketman sheds light on an icon who despite living a life of excess, wasn't all that different to you and me. He was simply trying to find himself and experience a little bit of love in this crazy world.

'Rocketman' arrives in Australian cinemas 30th of May

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