Sunday, June 9, 2019

Rocketman (2019) directed by Dexter Fletcher

Biopics are not a genre I gravitate toward, especially biopics of musicians. They generally share the same arc: a brief bit about childhood usually centered around dismal parenting, discovering the gift, becoming famous, abandoning their friends/original management, crashing and burning usually because of drugs, then some stab at redemption or at least presenting the subject in a flattering light). Even the “warts and all” variety of these things tend to gloss over the worst parts of their subjects lives and are emotionally manipulative in the worst ways in manufacturing that redemption. So Rocketman had some major hurdles to clear for me. And it really did in certain moments.

What convinced me to see it, was the description of the fantasy/magic realism scenes by some online friends. The film seemed to be offering something different, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and I’m glad I did. While it does suffer from most of the cliches listed above (the parental relationships were particularly too on the nose), it is nonetheless a good film. Taron Egerton’s performance is great, especially in the section that contains the title song. I really appreciated the framing device of him telling his life story to an AA group, gradually dressing less stage-y as he gradually gets more honest with them.

But what really elevates the movie over most biopics is the fantasy musical numbers. I am relatively unfamiliar with John’s music beyond hearing the hits, but this made me want to listen to more of his work. The filmmakers use the songs to really great effect. The decision to film it as a musical rather than going for realism with performance of the hits was the best thing they did. I can imagine watching this when it comes out on streaming and just fast forwarding to the musical sequences. I could also see the film growing on me with further viewings.

Even though the basic story is the same as Ray, Walk the Line, etc, the execution was better than usual. Unlike something like A Beautiful Mind, they actually didn’t elide Elton John’s sexuality, which was refreshing. This is a better than average biopic, and I’m glad that I saw it on the big screen, where the magic realist musical numbers really shone.


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