Rocketman captures the true spirit of Elton John

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

 

From the opening shot of Elton John (played by Taron Egerton) stomping down a hallway wearing an orange bedazzled suit with a full set of wings and a double horned headpiece, you realize that this is not a conventional biopic.

An over the top, sensory explosion that weaves in and out of fantasy and reality, Rocketman is a movie that takes a big swing and for the most part, succeeds.

British actor Taron Egerton (best known for the Kingsman spy franchise) takes on the title role in an impressive transformation that leaves him balding, gap toothed and heartbreakingly sad.

It turns out that the Elton we all know and love grew up with the kind of parents that left him neglected and desperate for love (no matter where it came from). He grows up lonely and musically gifted – it’s not until he meets Bernie Taupin (his lyricist of more than 50 years played by the always underrated Jamie Bell) that he finds a real friend.

While men come in and out of his story (most notably Richard Madden playing cruel boyfriend/manager John Reid) it’s Elton and Bernie (who for the record is straight) who are the real love story – theirs is a brotherhood and partnership that withstands all the ups and downs with kindness and compassion.

Here’s where things will get divisive – the music in the film is used as a storytelling device; every song is a fully staged performance number. This is NOT a concert biopic where you get to see your favourite band “perform” their songs in a way that feels like an extended youtube compilation of their greatest hits. The music in this film is so much more – every performance is fantastical in some way, whether it’s five-year-old Elton joining grown up Elton to sing “The Bitch is Back” or the crowd literally floating on air during Elton’s groundbreaking first American performance at the Troubador in LA with “Crocodile Rock,” each song is used to move the story forward. Does it always work? No. I’d say about 85% of the songs are elevated by this stylistic choice, the other 15% (that are predominantly featured in the first 20 minutes of the film – so hang in there!) are a bit too on-the-nose in terms of the plot and feel a bit hokey.

The performances from Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell and Richard Madden are fantastic but their excellence does sometimes serve to underscore what is the only big miss in the movie for me, which is the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mom. Her performance feels like a caricature – even in this film where nothing is grounded in reality. I didn’t believe her when she was mean, when she was in painfully bad old age make up (made even more confusing by the excellent make up that Egerton finds himself in) and especially in the blessedly few moments that she sings.

The film is a triumph in an age of sequels and superheroes – a unique and inventive telling of a man’s life using the music of a rock icon to elevate it’s every beat. It’s going to be a long, long time before another rock biopic so perfectly captures the spirit of its leading man.

Vicky Sparks is a Bright’s Grove native and movie critic for Global TV’s The Morning Show, which airs nationally on Fridays. Her Journal Reviews cover movies playing at Galaxy Cinemas Sarnia