I want to thank Scott Forbes of The Scott Forbes Film & TV Reviews for allowing me permission to repost his review of Rocketman. He saved me some money and heartache, as he always does with his reviews. Or he makes me want to see the film. I trust Scott’s views and hope to see more of his work here.
ANTICIPATION WITH A BIG LET DOWN
Rocketman was one of my most anticipated films of 2019. The main cast was likable. I like the director, as well as the music of Elton John. Also, the trailer looked great. From Dexter Fletcher, the director of one of my all-time favorite musicals ‘Sunshine on Leith’, I believed this was going to be 2019’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The last thing I expected to be doing was writing a negative review of this movie. Unfortunately, that is what I must now do.
THE LIGHT BEFORE THE STORM
Before going into the reasons why this film was so disappointing for me, let me first discuss some of the positives that this film has to offer. Everyone knows that Elton is a flamboyant personality and that in his heyday he would wear some incredibly bold outfits. He also had a range of spectacular spectacles. I thought the costume department did a tremendous job in finding/making outfits which resembled many of the iconic looks Elton sported over the years. I also have to praise the hair & makeup team on the work they put into the movie. Visually I thought the characters looked great.
I also want to praise the performance of Jamie Bell, who played Elton’s long term songwriting partner Bernie Taupin. In his leading role, I thought that Taron Egerton did well. Using his own voice to sing the songs was a brave decision for him and Fletcher to take, but I don’t hate the decision as Egerton is a really good singer. It was the acting quality of Bell however which I felt elevated his performance above that of everyone else.
WHICH WAY DID HE GO, WHICH WAY DID HE GO?
The primary reason for my dislike of this movie is that tonally it was all over the place. When it comes to making films about musicians there are generally two choices that can be made. It can either be a drama, telling the story of the musician(s) in a realistic way (think ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or ‘Walk the Line’); or it can be a jukebox musical, where the musician’s music is used to shape a fictional narrative (think ‘Sunshine on Leith’ or ‘Mamma Mia’). In this case, Fletcher chooses to try to tell Elton John’s troubled life story within a jukebox musical; and it doesn’t work.
One of the elements that contributed to my issue with the film’s tone was the directorial choices to have so many scenes which were surreal and frankly trippy. At one point an entire room was levitating. In another scene, Elton was singing while underwater, with a child in a space helmet playing the keyboard. There are many other scenes equally as weird. Some people may argue that for a personality like Elton John it makes perfect sense for the film to be over the top and strange. For me, though each time something like this happened it completely took me out of the movie.
DARK AND DEPRESSING
Had this been a fun movie that, like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, intended to entertain an audience, then there could have been room for some of that surreal flamboyance. The problem is that this movie, for the most part, is not fun. It’s actually really dark and depressing. Aside from the money, Elton’s life as a young man was not easy. There were a lot of people who didn’t believe in him and people who would use him. This film doesn’t hide away from the personal struggles he faced and the fact that he stupidly used drugs and alcohol to try to deal with those struggles. This story being told I have no problem with; except for the fact that it was constantly being undercut by moments of trippy surrealism or lines from a vaguely appropriate song out of nowhere. If they wanted to tell such a dark story they should have made this a proper drama, not a musical.
I also felt like the film rushed too quickly through events in Elton’s life. Now I’m no expert in terms of Elton John’s life story, but for example, we go from Elton being a child (when he was still known as Reg Dwight) very quickly to when he was a young man on the brink of a career in music. What about his teenage years? Moving to later when he takes a wife. That’s a major event, with potential for some incredibly moving scenes. Minor spoiler…………turns out she’s in the film for what must have been less than 5 minutes before she’s gone he moves on to more drugs and alcohol. I just feel like there’s so much more to Elton John that could have been told, which would have been more interesting than what we got.
OH HUM PERFORMANCES
In terms of the performances, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t find them believable. Egerton had some good moments, but I never felt like he was Elton John. Perhaps it’s to do with the voice, but for me, he was always just Taron wearing silly outfits. Reports suggest that Elton himself told Egerton not to try to imitate him too much. That’s just dumb. If you’re going to play a real person in a movie about their life then you want the actor to become that person as closely as possible. In ‘Eddie the Eagle’ I thought Egerton expertly became Eddie Edwards, to the benefit of the movie. Unfortunately here he just seemed like a guy at a fancy dress party, which for me let the film down.
I also didn’t think the supporting cast was very good (apart from Bell). ‘Bodyguard’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ star (and hopefully the next James Bond) Richard Madden I hated in the role of John Reid – Elton’s manager/lover. To me, he came across as a one-dimensional villain, with no interesting character traits. I also thought Bryce Dallas Howard was poor as Elton’s mum Sheila. Stephen Graham was rubbish is his first manager Dick James. Also, Tate Donovan pops up as some kind of promoter in a role which I do not think he was right for. Even that idiot Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon) gets a cameo for some reason. Thankfully he only had one line. I’m really surprised that a film like this could get things so wrong.
Although clearly, I was not a fan of this movie I will remain a fan of Elton John’s songs. I’ve not read or heard any critical reviews on this film yet so I have no idea what the general consensus will be. My suspicion is that the critics will love that the film venture’s into Elton’s dark and depressing personal struggles. As for general cinemagoers, I feel like Rocketman’s surreal nature will split audiences.
EDITOR’S (MY) THOUGHTS
We go into a movie with a certain mindset by the previews present to us. As we didn’t conceive the idea nor write the script, we’re only eating what someone is feeding us. I’ve come away with those feelings a few times. And no matter how good the movie may have been, when you feel like you’ve been lied to, you can’t see the sun for the eclipse.
Rocketman – currently playing theaters
Starring: Taron Egerton as Elton John
Writer: Lee Hall (War Horse, Billy Elliott)
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Release Date: 31 May 2019
Run Time: 121 mins
Production Company: Marv Films