Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
ROCKETMAN opens with a glorious symphonic suite of an Elton John hit against a backdrop of twinkling stars that quickly morphs into our hero stomping down a corridor leaving a stadium, garbed in one of his Liberace-inspired costumes, and he winds up at an AA meeting where he lists a litany of personal demons. This quickly segues into a beautifully-choreographed and sung version of five-year-old Reginald Dwight (Elton’s real name) singing “The Bitch is Back”. Welcome to the first few minutes of the most original and audacious Modern Musical since Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, The five-minute standing ovation this Movie received when it had at its World Premiere at the recent Cannes Film Festival recently was deserved richly.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher (best known for his stepping in to complete the direction of Bohemian Rhapsody) and written by Lee Hall (nominated for an Oscar for Billy Elliot and then collaborated with Elton for the monster stage musical hit version of the Movie), ROCKETMAN documents Elton’s meteoric rise to fame, from a shy, very young musical prodigy to a somewhat pudgy and bespectacled teenage musician playing piano for touring American R&B acts to his fortuitous meeting with Lyricist and Songwriter Bernie Taupin, played beautifully by the consistently under-appreciated Jamie Bell. Working together, they have a number of minor hit songs but magic happens when they write “Your Song”, one of Rock’s most fully-realized romantic songs ever that Fletcher adapts for the screen with poignancy. This song lands Elton a gig at the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood where the rock elite (Neil Diamond, Neil Young) attend and his performance propels his rise to superstardom. At a party at Mama Cass’ estate and abandoned by Taupin, Elton meets John Reid, played with sexiness and menace by Richard Madden, and he ultimately becomes Elton’s manager and lover. Still trying to overcome the scars left by his uncaring parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh shine in their moments), Elton fuels his pain with excess. Name an addiction and he has it, be it sex, drugs, shopping – the more indulgent, the better. His stage shows turn into elaborate productions with over-the-top costumes. Everything about Elton John had become so insanely heightened, we know the obligatory fall from the zenith will be painful to view.
ROCKETMAN succeeds wildly for two reasons. Fletcher’s direction is inimitable. He brings a quasi-Documentary vibe to all the proceedings but excels with the musical productions that seamlessly weave in and out at the most interesting parts of the narrative. “Saturday’s Alright For Fighting” is a flawless, exuberant piece set at a carnival. “Crocodile Rock” is a visual feast when John performs it at the Troubadour. “Tiny Dancer” gets a sad, moody visual interpretation. We even see his duet with Kiki Dee as well as his iconic concert at Dodger Stadium where he wore the famed sequined Dodgers outfit. The techni-coloured Costume Design and outstanding Cinematography are borderline genius. And the orchestral score of John’s hits is an aural delight.
What takes ROCKETMAN to the stratosphere and beyond is Taron Egerton. It is a performance of such magnitude that his name deserves to be mentioned twice. In caps. And bold. TARON EGERTON. Always great in good movies or extremely watchable in stinkers (Billionaire Boys Club, anyone?), every moment he is on screen is spellbinding. Not only were his acting choices so on-the-money, it is an egoless performance where he never dominates or overshadows the performers he is working alongside with, giving everyone their moments to shine brightly and memorably. It’s flamboyant. And masterful, resonant, heartbreaking, eloquent, insanely entertaining, believable and formidable. It’s is so astonishing, that masterclass screen performances from now on should be described as Egertonesque. And taking a cue from Diana Ross playing Billie Holliday in Lady Sings the Blues, both she and Egerton never tried to mimic the distinct voices of the singers they portrayed, but interpreted the songs with their own unique stylings. It’s a choice I wholeheartedly approve of. I think it’s gonna be a long, long time before I forget ROCKETMAN.
Paramount Pictures Canada release ROCKETMAN Friday, May 31, 2019.