Monday, June 3, 2019

Rocketman *** (2019)

The thing with rock bio pictures is that they already have a fantastic soundtrack embedded within them - that's half the battle. Music was the saving grace in Bohemian Rhapsody and many other pictures on the rock era. Rocketman is the equivalent of a greatest hits album, always satisfying, but never goes beyond the public's perception of the artist.

Taron Egerton stars as Elton John in a balanced and endearing performance. The film opens with his childhood and early training with the piano. His parents were conservative and distant in a tale told many times before. The best parts of these movies are the rise of the artist and that's the strongest part of Rocketman. Elton's partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) proved one of the most lucrative in pop music history. Their friendship feels like the only authentic relationship in the movie.

The scenes of rock star excess also feel mandatory. The cliche of the sad pop star all along in their mansion with a hangover after a night of debauchery. While the film deals with Elton's struggles with drug addiction and sexuality, we are once again treading on much covered territory. 

But to its credit the film takes a slightly surreal approach to fame, much like an astute pop song. I suspect Dexter Fletcher took some inspiration from Ken Russell's Tommy and Velvet Goldmine by Todd Haynes, both full on extravaganzas of glam rock and psychedelia. A touch of Fellini's 8 1/2 is thrown in for good measure.

Rocketman never holds back on playing the hits. In saying that I wish there had been a little more on the music itself. With Elton and Bernie as the central relationship, some more focus on the influences and creativity that went into crafting their music would've been welcome. John Lennon is mentioned, but we never got a scene of them performing together in Madison Square Garden. A fantastical representation of the 70s pop scene, Rocketman is the definition of a crowd pleaser.

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