Summary: A surreal biopic about the legendary Elton John.
The comparisons are inevitable so I’ll get this out of the way- I liked Rocketman much more than Bohemian Rhapsody. I thought it was more interesting to watch and more innovative when it came to including John’s music. I think Taron Egerton deserves an Oscar nomination and perhaps it’s too early, but I wouldn’t be mad right now if he won.
The biggest difference between this and Bohemian Rhapsody is that Rocketman (you know, aside from the whole multiple directors and reshoots thing) is that it feels overwhelmingly honest. An R rating in a rock and roll setting is fitting. There’s a clear affinity for Elton John, but it doesn’t shy away from the eccentric, unapologetic person he was. It helps that John served as a producer and didn’t have a band arguing about screentime or run the risk of tainting a legacy; and it helps that the director makes it clear that this isn’t a biopic so much as John’s reflection on himself. Using that as a framing device, the movie can get away with being a little surreal, incorporating large dance numbers, and pretty dizzying takes. And it all works.
Biopics and musical biopics need creative filmmaking, as both often feel so paint-by-numbers when it comes to shoehorning events and moments. It turns into “How did this thing we know this person for come to be?” or in the case of musical biopics, “How did so-and-so conceive this song?” Like John himself, Rocketman shelves this straightforward approach and instead uses the music accelerate moments of his life that either inspired his music or mentally affected him long enough well into adulthood. It plays up the emotional value of each scene, either immersing you in emotions or the joy of his songs.
The way the music is incorporated also gives the other cast members something to do, other than fiddle around and stare in awe of Elton as he performs. The cast actively takes a part in each musical number, either singing along depending on the scene or providing some context about the lyrics in their actions that Elton observes. Everyone gets a little moment to shine- and I really appreciated everyone’s singing ability. Some of it seems to have been done live, which 1. Admirable! and 2. helped me feel further invested in the characters and events. Inhaling and exhaling- a minute action that can speak volumes within this kind of movie. (Also, just plain old nice to hear some of the quieter moments. Man, musicals have been getting loud.)
It’s just a different kind of celebration, when you’re given a certain perspective. Insight into short, intimate moments gives a unique weight to the lyrics- I’m not sure if each song was derived specifically from the moments on screen, but it helped connect with the film on a unique level. I walked away from this not only humming the familiar tunes, but with a new appreciation for some of my favorite songs.