Entertainment and accuracy are often mutually exclusive elements within the biopic genre. Facts are merely obstacles when attempting Hollywood razzle dazzle. There is no room for artificial entertainment when trying to honestly portray a person’s life on screen.
Yet Rocketman establishes a formula that draws upon both but is not a slave to either. Reality is grounded in fiction and vice versa. It’s an all-too-fitting way to tell the life of Elton John – a man who at his peak was the biggest juxtaposition in music, his flamboyance and insecurity at almost dystopian levels.
While such a style is in some ways unprecedented, this “true fantasy” film undoubtedly owes a debt to musical theatre – incorporating many of its tricks while never quite reaching the cheesy levels of earnestness often found on the stage. Songs are often used as direct story telling devices (Taupin sings “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” following an argument, as an example) and choreography is used as an accentuation rather than a featured element. Rocketman ends up far closer to being a jukebox musical than it does a biopic, to the point where a stage adaptation feels inevitable.
It’s quickly apparent that historical accuracy is painted in broad strokes here and the film practically goes out of its way to drive this point home. There’s equal amounts of delightful absurdity in watching the crowd during Elton’s first US show levitate as there is believing he played “Daniel,”
“That’s Why The Call It The Blues,” and “Candle in the Wind” for his very first publishing audition. It was a brilliant move by the screenwriter to have the film told in hindsight as Elton enters rehab, giving Rocketman permission to be cavalier in its use of sequence. Anyone looking for a by-the-book telling of Elton’s life should, well, perhaps wait for Elton’s autobiography coming this fall.
There’s irony in the fact that a movie which so often and so vividly suspends reality is 100% authentic in one of its defining elements. Taron Egerton, freakishly believable as Elton John, did all of his own vocals for the film. No one would ever mistake Egerton’s voice for Elton’s but there’s a charm and connection to be found from hearing his voice as opposed to lip synced renditions of the originals. Elton himself has hyped up Egerton as a great interpreter of his songs but the John-Taupin catalogue remains virtually in tact minus the odd tempo or lyric change.
Egerton is truly fantastic – delivering the manic extremes of Elton’s personality with grace, flash, and heart. Unfortunately just about every other character in the movie is reduced to a highly one dimensional archetype in the name of moving the story along. It’s a tolerable sin when remembering who the title subject is but it nonetheless makes defining life moments feel oversimplified and rushed.
Too often biopics are scattered and unsatisfying because they simply try to cover too much ground. Where Rocketman ultimately succeeds is in its focused, unapologetic vision for amplified entertainment. The title of the movie seemingly doesn’t align with content itself until you realize that its spellbinding ride is perfectly akin to the feeling of being inside of a high speed aircraft.
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