Skip to main content

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

Astute casting also more than pays dividends, as Taron Egerton graduates from his previous biopic collaboration with Fletcher – the cheerfully undemanding Eddie the Eagle – with endlessly brimming confidence, both in physical and vocal performance (unlike Rami Malek, these pipes are all Egerton’s). Sure, he’s significantly more photogenic and likeable than actual Elton (and at no point appears to have piled on the pounds enough to be convincing when he labels himself fat), but captures the egotistical, indulgent, temperamental artist with both the necessary flair and despair.

Jamie Bell, who may actually be the better singer of the two, despite playing a character who professes to be tone deaf, plays the contrastingly angelic Bernie Taupin, always professing brotherly affection and showing it by being there for him in rehab, having suffering through the tantrums and occasionally expressing doubt about the tastefulness of the tiaras. Richard Madden is at the other end of the scale, coming on like a gay Sean Connery as the manipulative, coldly calculating John Reid (I can definitely see the reason for all the Bond talk now, having previously skimped on The Bodyguard and been unconvinced by his Game of Thrones turn). Similarly strong are Bryce Dallas Howard (just when did she become eligible for the mum parts?) and Stephen Mackintosh as his respectively capitalising and distant parents (Gemma Jones is his unstintingly encouraging gran).

So while there’s nothing to complain about on that front – although, perhaps appropriately, or not given the director, the young Eltons display a sub-Bugsy Malone flair during early song-and-dance routines – the screenplay by Lee Hall (previously of Billy Elliot – you can see the genetic makeup in the early life – and adaptations including Pride and Prejudice, War Horse and the upcoming Cats) is less unimpeachable. It may simply be that Elton’s life, unlike his frocks, isn’t sufficiently cinematic – not in terms of eventfulness, perhaps, but with regard to that all-important dramatic arc. Certainly, the lack of delineation after a certain point – subsequent to his rise to the top, when he can’t go any higher – leads to an unfiltered melange of excess and injury, with Elton haunted by familial rejections and injustices to the point of weary repetition (how many times does he need to see his younger self, or have his parents remind him that he isn’t wanted – cue wounded look).

Accordingly, might also have helped to pin down the periods a little more; I knowthis a loose fantasy-musical version, and I’m sure the heady days all car-crashed into one for enervated Elton, but what appears to be a thirteen-year period following hitting it big at the Troubadour in 1970 has little to separate and define itself. There are some great visuals put to songs, most notably Elton and the audience collectively rising off the ground at the inaugural aforementioned Troubadour gig (‘72’s Crocodile Rock being his first performance) and a genius piece where Reg Dwight has a heart attack and is gurneyed into a suit via a silhouetted production-line, culminating in his launching into Pinball Wizard for a rapt audience. Then there’s Elton’s triumphant rebirth with I’m Still Standing, deliriously recreating (or inserting Egerton onto the original footage?) the cheese-encrusted ‘80s promo.

Along the way, we witness management fallouts (Dick James comes off looking hard done by; from the evidence here, it seems incredible that Reid continued as Elton’s manager until 1998), attempts to reconcile and be disappointed by parents, a very brief marriage, and Kiki Dee. We also learn that the Queen Mom was a big fan, which I guess would make sense if her daughter had indeed “chipped” Elton (ask Donald Marshall).

As a whole, Fletcher plotted the surest course in summoning the spirit of Ken Russell era musical biopics, but where I found Bohemian Rhapsody struggled somewhat to find its feet before clicking in the second half, nearly the reverse is true here, with the picture in danger of succumbing to the same kind of self-indulgence Elton did during the period depicted (which again, you could argue is entirely the point, but it’s debatable whether that makes for the greatest version of his life story).




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.