After the many – and justified – criticisms surrounding 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody, a film about one of the most famous LGBT performers in the 20th century that contains exactly one kiss between Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and his partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), there was some trepidation about Rocketman before its release.
Luckily, director Dexter Fletcher, along with Taron Egerton as Elton John, avoid the traps of ‘dulling down’ any of John’s life and embrace it it in all it’s sequined, polyester exuberance.
It’s not your average bio-pic – it’s framed as a story, a recollection of his life that Elton tells – while dressed in full orange devil gear – to a support group at his rehab. Rocketman also funny embraces the musical side, with choreography and group songs that often lead the narrative instead of expositional dialogue. One particular moment – where teenage Elton (Kit Connor) begins his first public performance in the local pub, before ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ kicks in and Egerton takes over as Reggie Dwight/Elton John, complete with a quiff and a dance routine.
Particular praise has to go to Egerton – who since his breakout role as Eggsy in Kingsman (we’ll forget about the disappointment that was Kingsman: The Golden Circle) has been turning in some brilliant performances. As Elton, he fully embraces both the madness and the sadness behind the outfits. With a slowly balding wig and all the terrible and frankly impressive costume choices, he truly disappears into the role with a remarkably similar look to Elton himself. His voice – he sings all the songs that appear in the film – is excellent and confident for an actor that has not appeared in any musical-centred films.
The supporting cast – from Bryce Dallas-Howard as his abrasive yet well-meaning mother Shelia, to Richard Madden as John’s manager and lover John Reid – are all outstanding, but are ultimately not the focus of the film.
Watching John’s meteoric rise, complete with a painful and very public downfall, feels familiar, as an element of the second act that glosses over the complexities of addition in order to reach a happy ending. The narrative format, of John talking through his life with a group of strangers and slowly transforming from Elton to Reggie through both demeanour and costuming, does allow for some introspection but not quite enough.
Ultimately, Rocketman is built on the story of a performer like no other, a film that embraces the extravagance, the chaos and the uniqueness of Elton John. No other release this year is going to have you leaving the cinema singing quite as joyfully.
Rocketman is in UK cinemas now.