Sunday, June 16, 2024

Review: Elton John’s Biopic “Rocketman” is Sensational, Full of Life and Laughs and Great Song and Dance, Better Than “Bohemian Rhapsody”


“Rocketman” launched in Cannes on Thursday night with a lot of fanfare plus a performance by Elton John and his star, Taron Egerton. I worried that the people there– I am often one of them– were carried away by the moment. They were raving all over social media.

This afternoon a bunch of press got to see Dexter Fletcher’s wonderful film here in New York. I can say with much relief that the Cannes reviews are spot on, the movie is terrific, I feel it’s much better overall than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which Fletcher finished when Bryan Singer was ousted as director.

Taron Egerton is sensational, there aren’t enough good things to say about him as Elton. Jamie Bell is superb as Bernie Taupin (Bernie should be thrilled), Richard Madden is a perfect sort of gay Snidely Whiplash of John Reid (the common villain from both movies), and Bryce Dallas Howard is a hoot as Elton’s mother. (Someone wrote that she was miscast, and they are nuts.)

You’re not going to get an exact music history of Elton John in “Rocketman,” but we were warned: this is part fantasy. The songs are not in chronological order, but instead used as dramatic devices and set pieces to illustrate Elton’s life chronologically. Get that? In the end, it doesn’t matter. The songs are organized and choreographed in such a clever way that it works. That’s all that matters.

Some of them really work, too, like “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer,” as well as “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” “The Bitch is Back” is now more of a lament than a kitschy proclamation. And what really occurs to you as the movie goes along is how well all the music has aged. It’s still got a fresh quality to it. Even “Crocodile Rock” (which is played at Elton’s 1971 Troubador debut, two or three years before it was written) leaves you humming.

The thing is, this isn’t a ‘and then Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ went to number 1′ sort of film. It’s Elton’s personal story about growing a songwriter, then performer, coming to terms with being gay, dealing with a number of addictions and compulsions, and learning to survive as a person and not just a rock star.  The screenplay by Lee Hall is worked out very carefully. There are a lot of moving parts, and they all, miraculously, complement each other.

There will be kudos all around for set design, production, make-up and hair, all the below the line stuff. The re-creation of Elton’s costumes as he got more and more outrageous on stage is splendid. Lots of little things– like Elton starting out doing Elvis bits, then watching Liberace on TV, etc– all add up to a greater good. Fletcher and Hall have stuffed the movie with visual cues galore.  And I loved that Kiki Dee was represented as the two record “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

A few people make cameos, sometimes unnamed. Elton and Bernie toured with Patti Labelle the Bluebelles early on; they’re in the movie but not cited. Doug Weston of the Troubador is here, and introduces Elton– which I don’t think is right. Neil Diamond introduced him that night. (They do say he’s in the audience.) Me, I’m a nitpicker, but you can’t do that with this movie. It’s too well built.  Fletcher is looking at the big picture, annotating it as he goes along. It’s an excellent way to cover a lot of ground.

Will “Rocketman” out gross “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Probably not. “BR” was the first, it was a novelty, the first really fine film about a contemporary rock star. But “Rocketman” is a hit, nonetheless. You laugh, you cry, you see Elton’s estranged dad asking for an autographed album for a co-worker, the mother asking for a new house, and no one taking care of Elton. Of course, there’s a happy ending. Long after the movie ends, Elton gets together with David Furnish, has two little boys, and the family he always dreamed of. There is no tragedy, as in “BR.” It’s a movie that ends with love.

PS One little Easter egg: super model Claudia Schiffer is an executive producer. She’s married to EP Matthew Vaughn, and is listed in the credits as “Claudia Vaughn.” I’m surprised she didn’t go to Cannes. Maybe she’ ll come to the New York premiere. (We hope.)


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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