I’ve never been a huge fan of musicals but when done with a sense of artistry, originality, and flair (Wizard Of Oz, Grease, Phantom Of The Paradise, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop Of Horrors) they can be very entertaining. If done wrong however (Evita, Moulin Rouge!, the Rocky Horror Picture Show remake) watching the movie can be a chore; something that grates at the ears and tugs at the eyelids, leaving you longing for a pillow, some ear plugs, and a box of Aspirin. Rocketman, a biographical musical chronicling the life of singer Elton John, unfortunately falls into the latter category; it weirdly manages to be loud yet dull, rushed yet long, and the songs aren’t selected in order to tell an interesting story, they are instead placed there for royalties or for the pleasure of Elton’s fanboys. And if that were not bad enough, all of the songs are sang by someone who sounds like a tribute act at your local pub.
Rocketman offers nothing new or innovative in terms of music biopics. Remember Oliver Stone‘s The Doors? The brilliant Val Kilmer came very close to looking and sounding like Jim Morrison and the film was directed in such a way that even a non-fan could appreciate the plot and the music. Rocketman is the complete opposite; the role of Elton John is played by someone who has all the singing abilities of an X-Factor contestant and the same amount of screen presence. Surely prerequisites for playing Elton would be a. looking like him and b. sounding like him. You can have either or both but possessing neither quality means you shouldn’t be portraying him. I would have preferred it if the songs were mimed, because surely that’s the only reason to watch a film about Elton John – to hear Elton John songs – I don’t want some jumped-up runt ruining his music.
I thought everybody in Hollywood knew that the way you portray a famous person is by imitation coupled with talent… you know, like Rami Malek? And if you’re playing a singer but you can’t sing like them, you mime to someone who can… you know, like Rami Malek? Taron Egerton (who plays Elton) is no Rami Malek, his performance is like that of a soap opera actor, there might be flashes of decent acting here and there but his overall look and abilities look out-of-place on the big-screen. Egerton was also in the shit Eddie The Eagle, the shite Kingsman, and its shittier sequel, and after looking nothing like Eddie “Michael Edwards” The Eagle, some unimaginative producer probably assumed that meant he could play any spectacled bloke from the 1980s. Taron looks more like Andre Agassi playing Timmy Mallet (and sounds more like Mallet’s foray into music) than he does Elton John, so the end result is about as believable as him playing an East-end “yout” in the aforementioned Kingsman.
Jamie Bell plays Elton’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, he looks nothing like Taupin either but he at least has presence (and ironically he has a better voice than Taron). Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elton’s mother and even though her accent wavers a little, she gives a likeable-dislikeable performance as she did in The Help. And the real-life Elton John is executive producer for this movie, which seems like a strange, narcissistic, and even masturbatory role for him… please, please, tell my story, I’m so interesting!
Dexter Fletcher (co-director of Bohemian Rhapsody and fully responsible for the crap Eddie The Eagle) directs this mediocre musical and since he’s no auteur, Rocketman plays like an ITV drama (think Torvill & Dean the musical). The creators may have intended to make a fantastical-biopic-musical but they haven’t, they’ve made what looks like a TV drama smothered randomly with Elton’s songs without considering the meaning or the relevance. For instance, at the beginning when asked about his childhood, Elton begins to sing “The Bitch Is Back” which makes no sense whatsoever, then at Mama Cass’ party he begins singing “Tiny Dancer” when Bernie abandons him for a woman. The only song that is relevant to the scene in which it plays is “I’m Still Standing” but that’s one in what seems like a hundred unrelated ones. And herein lies the film’s biggest problem; all of the lyrics throughout John’s career were written by Taupin, so they have no real connection to the life of the musical composer. Trying to insert songs which may or may not have relevance to the life of Bernie Taupin into the life and key events of Elton John makes little to no sense.
Most biopics about singers are made after they’ve died and by doing so, most of them have an emotional conclusion, but with Elton John still living, this film seems like there’s a missing chapter or two. If you absolutely have to make a film about a singer during their lifetime, you have to come from left-field like Moonwalker did but Rocketman is nowhere near as unique. This is just a chronology of events; Elton’s drug and alcohol addiction, his coming out as well as the first half of musical career but the drab, am-dram way in which it’s told makes the whole saga seem tedious and hollow and going to the cinema to watch it is a pointless endeavour. There’s nothing “big-screen” about this movie, in fact you’re better off waiting for this to be aired on TV, that way you can at least pause it or turn the volume down a notch (or change the channel). By the time Keith Lemon appears on screen, the whole atmosphere is ruined, in fact it goes from ITV1 to ITV2 in the space of a few seconds.
There’s other problems too. Firstly there’s the line where Elton says he’s never had a argument with Bernie, then over the course of the next two hours, he has not one but two arguments with him… very sloppy writing. Secondly, there’s some forced-inclusion here and there (Bollywood dancing at a funfair, African singers at his wedding, first kiss with a black man, a sexual encounter with a black woman) I don’t know if any of this actually happened but it all seems a bit false; placed in the film in order to portray the time and the people as inclusive, kinda like the rainbow ribbon around Elton John’s straw hat which as far as I can remember never happened. The fact that Elton’s friends include Eric Clapton and Eminem, I doubt this multicultural throng ever happened in real life.
And is it just me, or does Elton John’s Rocketman coming straight after Freddie Murcury’s Bohemian Rhapsody seem a little bit like that Little Britain character who wanted to be the only gay in the village? Look, I played in a big stadium too you know! Despite the overall mediocrity of Rhapsody, the story of a gay, ethnic minority, immigrant with a four octave range becoming one of the most prolific singers in an all-straight, all-white genre at a time of racism and homophobia was a story that arguably needed to be told. But the tale about a drab-looking man who had a penchant for tacky clothes and gaudy glasses who didn’t come out until it was safe and mainstream, a man that began emulating American Blues and Country Rock, then became the mainstay of centrist mum’s record collections, made a few overrated Disney tracks, recycled and ruined his own song to Marilyn Monroe by re-dedicating it to Princess Diana, shouted at some Taiwanese folk at an airport, got rich, got worse at singing, married, got fatter, entertained the Royals, voted Remain, and then produced his own musical is the shittest story ever told in the history of Hollywood music biopics (of course some of this is left out of Rocketman).
Elton John’s music was decent enough in the 1970s but by the time he started dressing as a butcher (in a straw boater’s hat) and a chicken shop assistant (a Kenneth D. King side cap) his music took a turn for the worst. By the time the 1990s and the 2000s came, he became a joke; a has-been known more for giving shiny gifts to other singers than creating gems of his own. Anything he’s released since his heyday has been completely lacklustre and with a worsening voice, even Elton John sounds nothing like Elton John these days. Maybe that’s why he chose Taron to play him, his voice sounds like the Elton of today… crap. Just listen to their duet at Cannes, it’s an amateur mess akin to something Simon Cowell would approve of on one of his many shows. Considering the singer of the original song is present, it just goes to show how much Elton John’s voice is declining.
In terms of actual plot, Rocketman does go full-music-biopic-cliche by chronicling the downward spiral of sex and drugs followed by a comeback. I know this actually occurred but if you watch enough biopics about singers, you become jaded to this contrived storyline and feel nothing for moaning millionaires by the fifth or tenth time you watch such a plot. This type of story is so overdone that they all start to amalgamate into one until your memory of music biopics is essentially Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. This film thankfully, is also about Elton’s connection (or lack thereof) to his family. The scene in which his father asks him to sign a record for his friend at work is the best in the movie, in fact this is the one scene that Taron actually shows some acting abilities. Given that the film doesn’t document the entire life of Elton (there’s no mention of his raping of “Candle In The Wind” for example) the focus is on the relationships he has to the people around him but for some unknown reason, the film then ends with some random facts such as his AIDS Foundation almost as if he’s trying to emulate the closing of Bohemian Rhapsody. I’d rather know what happened to his mother and father (I could Google it I suppose but that’s not cinematic).
With the likes of Elton John, Morrissey, and Mötley Crüe, we’ve recently had very straight-forward biopics of the tamest and lamest of singers. It’s weird that Hollywood never tells a story that has some meat to it, stories that are sad or strange, stories like the life and death of Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, the myth of Robert Johnson, or the obscure yet interesting life of Johnny Paycheck. Even the unreleased City Of Lies tells a story about two musicians in a way that is potentially enthralling. But Elton John’s life? Really? If someone told you in the mid-1980s that the moron singing “Sacrifice” would have his own musical, the only people who would want to watch that shite would be bland secretaries in blander M&S dresses but just because a few decades have passed, now, this man is respected to the point this film is gaining critical praise? My oh my, how the passage of time affects people’s perception of pishy pop music.
Remember that Elton John’s life has already been told as a John Lewis Christmas advert, and that 2 minute ad does the same thing as this 121 minute movie.
Don’t Let Your Son Go Down On Me.