I'm happy to say this film is more than a concert from the past or a frivolous musical review. British director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, 2015) nicely blends reality and fantasy in this story of Elton John's formative years.
From a lonely childhood as nerdy Reggie Dwight in 1950s London, to a gifted piano student with an incredibly sharp ear, to a successful partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, 2017), Rocketman uses a good helping of Elton John songs peppered throughout to add more emotional depth and artistic interpretation to this story. And it's this interpretation that makes the film enjoyable, special, and elevated beyond the prefabricated, predictable biopic genre. Actor Taron Edgerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, 2017) dives head first into his role of Elton John adding a great authenticity to a shy, anxious, isolated man.
The glamorous, blinding, over-the-top costumes and grand performances are balanced with private moments of heartbreaking rejection, alcoholism, drug addiction, and shame for being gay. Indeed, much of this singer's demons are rooted in the humiliation and disgrace that often accompanies young gay men learning about themselves.
I think it's expected to compare Rocketman to last year's hit film Bohemian Rhapsody since both films are large scale biopics about the lives of famous, mainstream, British musicians in the latter half of the 20th century. But Rocketman is thankfully about more than the music, and it doesn't shy away from the difficult or ugly parts of Elton John's life. (It's not as shy as Bohemian Rhapsody at addressing the darker parts of the story, but it doesn't fully embrace them either.)
Because the film works so hard at covering so many different moments shaping this man, many opportunities for deeper reflection are skipped over. Certain relationships or professional decisions could have been explored more to offer greater depth to this extraordinary story. But Rocketman still manages to offer audiences an entertaining experience that is both plaintive and enjoyable. Both inwardly wounded and bursting with song.