Director Dexter Fletcher (aka Baby Face from Bugsy Malone aka Spike from Press Gang) infamously came in to complete the Queen biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ after Bryan Singer was shown the door. Its hard to tell how much impact he had on the films tone etc but in ‘Rocketman’ he’s only made the film that Bohemian Rhapsody could have been.
The biggest problem I had with “Bo Rhap” is that it was dull. Not the factual innacuracies, not Rami Maliks prosthetics not the lumpen script that ticked every cliché. The last thing, like them or loathe them, that Queen were was humdrum and ordinary – ok maybe John Deacon – but that film made their extravagant, outrageous, ego bomb of a frontman into a most ordinary man.
The main advantage that this Elton biopic has is that it isn’t one. The subtitle is ‘based on a true fantasy’ and if anything it is a musical based on Elton Johns life. You could easily see this leading to a show in the West end. It has characters singing at each other, expressing their feelings through lyrics that are anachronistic to the events portrayed – 2001’s ‘I Want Love’ sung by an 8 year old Elton, his mum, dad and nan.
Like the Queen flick there are set pieces like the infamous Troubador shows in August 1970, Dodgers Stadium in 1975, Royal Variety in 1972 but they aren’t faithful recreations like the Live Aid climax to the Queen film. There is an infamous shot from the Troubadour of Elton with legs flailing behind him like he is levitating. The film takes that moment and turns it up to 10 as Taron Egerton’s Elton takes in the moment in slow motion as the crowd rise off the ground with him before slamming back to earth into ‘Crocodile Rock’ . It doesn’t matter that he didn’t play that song at that gig and wouldn’t record it for 2 years – as part of the fantastical nature of the film which has already seen a ten year old Reggie Dwight banging out ‘Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting’ on the pub joanna
Edgerton is absolutely terrific as Elton – the little twitches, shy smiles and frowns are just as vital as the OTT concert performances and tantrums. I had a problem with Richard Madden as his manager / lover John Reid as I couldn’t get the comedian talk show host Craig Ferguson out of my head every time he appeared. Jamie Bell (aka Billy Elliot – Elton of course wrote the hit musical based on the film) does a fine job as Bernie Taupin desperately trying to stop his friend and himself from disappearing down the bottom of a glass.
Thankfully there are no people wandering on in dodgy wigs to be Freddie, Rod, Mick n Keef etc although Kiki Dee does show up. His homosexuality is not avoided or toned down for a mainstream audience and neither is his failings as a person, a friend, a son and a husband (although his marriage to Renate goes from meeting to divorce in less than 5 minutes) and as he says “I started being a cunt in 1975 and I just didn’t stop”. Neither is the sliding quality of his career with ‘Victim Of Love’ chosen as the nadir which is probably the lowest point of anyone’s association with Elton.
The film is framed around Elton in an AA meeting in 1984 – dressed in a red silk diamante devil costume complete with horns and wings which he slowly sheds as he confronts his past before he struts from the room in a faithful recreation of one his most iconic videos.
Yes the film has some corny n sappy dialogue, is sugary enough at points to give you Type II and it has the obligatory “Here I’ve written some lyrics, see what you can do” scene where Elton just throws together one of his signature songs. However you can forgive the film that for its fantasy sequences, playing fast and loose with reality and making the experience of being Elton John in the 1970s simultaneously wonderful and horrific.