As Elton John plays his first LA show, he begins to levitate, only tethered to earth by fingers on the piano. The crowd lift too as ‘Crocodile Rock’ slows down to a crawl, a moment of sublime magical realism in a film that too often feels bound to music-biopic beats. This is Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman, another wiki-biopic of a great pop star, but one with enough star magnetism and creative flair to give it staying power.
Support from Rob Madden and a curiously-accented Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t quite live up to Taron Egerton’s superb turn as the man born Reginald Dwight, but nor do they need to. Egerton throws himself into the role, not only by mimicking Elton, but in relishing the chance to play around with the tone of these classic pop songs, which are scattered around the film in snatches, in symphony, and in full.
Another welcome break from the genre is to celebrate Elton John’s life by turning it into a full-blown musical, with little consideration for the chronology of events as much as their power for Elton and his nearest and dearest. One first-rate number set to ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ has Elton dance his way through a violent funfair, a scene with the elegant punch of the underrated Coppola musical One From the Heart. As Rocketman propels through time, you get the sense of the Rocketman on a trajectory that he can’t even catch, time slipping away from him.
When it slows down and tries to make too much sense of a life, Rocketman falters. You can’t simplify a person’s entire motivation into a few relics from childhood, as Fletcher clumsily attempts here. But when we hurtle through a life lived, and when John interacts with his past, Rocketman becomes a hot-blooded joy.
CAST: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher
WRITER: Lee Hall
SYNOPSIS: A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.