dir: Dexter Fletcher 2019
Coming hot off the heels of last year’s sensational Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of the popular pop rock band Queen, Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman will undoubtedly have comparisons made and even a few eyebrows raised. Fletcher worked as an uncredited replacement director on Bohemian Rhapsody after director Bryan Singer was replaced just before the end of shoot. With this new biopic on the iconic English music artist Elton John, Fletcher has put his own stamp on an entire film with impressive results and he is a directorial talent to watch out for.
Presented as a semi-musical biopic about Elton’s life, a large chunk of John’s music is used as a crutch to portray what is going on in the characters’ lives, sung from his tunes. This device underscores the drama on a deeper and more soulful level and deftly utilizes the music to give the film more meaning. Rocketman portrays Elton from his humble working class beginnings as a young boy, then known as Reginald Dwight, who was struggling to earn the acceptance of his aloof, cold and even psychologically cruel parents, his breakout as a top performing artist with the assistance of his good friend and lyricist Bernie Taupin, to his wild and somewhat debauched wealthy lifestyle, which included a strong reliance on drugs, alcohol and sex, which fueled him and almost destroyed him.
Elton’s conscience comes in the form of Bernie, portrayed wonderfully by Jamie—Billy Elliot—Bell, who has stood by Elton ever since they met and in which they had an almost 100% dedicated collaboration together. Elton though, tended to push people away due to his feelings of alienation born out of his superstar ego status. His desperate need to be loved, Bernie was more like a brother John never had, as he wasn’t finding it in those he thought loved him, especially his smarmy arrogant producer John Reid, portrayed by Richard Madden.
The film doesn’t quite go down the same sympathetic route that Bohemian Rhapsody took, which gave us a more sanitized approach of Mercury’s lifestyle. Despite John’s gifted genius, the film does ask for us to understand Elton’s emotional dysfunction, which was triggered largely by his distanced and self-absorbed parents, which the film doesn’t exactly paint in a positive light. As a child though, Reggie was fortunate and blessed to have a savior in his grandmother who was invested in his talent and wanted the best opportunities for him.
Welsh actor Taron—Kingsman—Egerton is a knockout as EJ. Much of what he conveys is so well imparted just by his eyes, a single voice inflection, a minor facial expression, that he gives plenty of depth of feeling and nuance to an already larger than life persona and more impressively, he also does his own singing. It is an interesting, intimate and exposed portrayal that will see Egerton being a much sought after talent and Rocketman is one of the best and originally presented music biopics ever made.
Film and Television Collection ROC
Darren Cunningham Bond Library's movie reviewer