The narrative approach to ‘Rocketman,’ the biopic of rock music legend Elton John, is as whimsical as it is emotionally hefty; it presents itself as a story narrated by Elton John himself (played wondrously by Taron Egerton) as he recounts his life while in the throes of his battle against addiction and, because of that storytelling framework, the film is allowed to be as fantastical as possible.
If anything, ‘Rocketman’ is a musical. Taron Egerton plays the larger-than-life rock superstar Elton John in full concert regalia as he is at the tipping point between life and death due to his many addictions, and at this precipice, he details the circumstances of his life that lead him to this point: and in each scene, every moment, there is a beautiful Elton John and Bernie Taupin song (and a few others) that mark the moment; repurposing the song’s meaning to fit into Elton John’s narrative.
By using the character of Elton John as the narrator and storyteller, ‘Rocketman’ can be as excessive and indulgent as it wants with regards to how each scene is presented. It can open up into an amazing full-on musical number complete with dancers and camera tricks or it can go slow and steady and very close-up at the ballads to really detail the dramatic beats of the scene.
As ‘Rocketman’ runs through the significant story points of Elton John’s life -- from his unhappy family life to his beginnings as a session player, from his first meeting with Bernie Taupin, who is to be instrumental to his career and life to landing his first record deal, from his rise to fame and then his eventual fall from glory -- we never forget that this is told through his point-of-view. So when the film makes conscious decisions to highlight only certain points or to portray characters in a certain way, or when a moment becomes a huge musical number and then magically jumps into the next few years in Elton John’s drug and alcohol-induced daze, we accept it because the film has prepared us for it.
Director Dexter Fletcher does an amazing job at finding the right tempo and rhythm to this story, and slowing everything down to create moments that will be remembered for a payoff at a later time, and then speeding things up to underscore the meteoric rise of John’s career.
The musical numbers are covered well, highlighting the mood and theme of each number while showcasing Egerton’s strong vocals. His singing may not exactly capture the purity of Elton John’s voice at the time of the recording, but he instills it with so much character and performance that it feels real and lived-in. Egerton is surrounded by an also incredible supporting cast from Jamie Bell (who does an amazing job as Bernie Taupin, who becomes the grounding force and beating heart of the story), Bryce Dallas Howard (Elton John’s cold and distant mother, Shiela), and Richard Madden (as the smarmy and devious John Reid, Elton John’s lover and manager).
‘Rocketman’ brings us into the life story of the rock legend, with the template rock-and-roll plot of a kid with a dream and then making it big, even bigger than what he imagined, and how it all tumbles down. But underneath all of that are the resonating themes of discrimination and being true to yourself in terms of his homosexuality and his larger-than-life on-stage theatrics, as well as that it is a journey of a man who must find some sort of peace and acceptance with his past.
But of all the themes that resonate within the narrative, it’s the friendship between Bernie Taupin and Elton John that is most resonant -- a platonic love story between creative partners and the best of friends -- especially because the film is loaded with all the products of that friendship: the timeless of songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
‘Rocketman’ succeeds because it embraces the whimsy as much as it embraces the drama. Like its lead character and subject, the film is bold and daring and grandiose. The film takes flight, hitting all the right notes, and ending with a bang.