Arts movie review

Rock ‘n’ roll, baby

Taron Egerton shines in his portrayal of Elton John

9058 rocketman
Taron Egerton is Elton John in Paramount Picture's 'Rocketman.'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Screenplay by Lee Hall
Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones
Rated R, Now Playing

When I heard Taron Egerton had been cast to play Elton John, I immediately knew I had to see Rocketman. From his role as Eggsy in the Kingsman movies to playing Eddie Edwards in Eddie the Eagle or Johnny in Sing, I knew he had the charm, charisma, and potential singing ability to really pull off Elton John, and I am pleased to report that my expectations were met tenfold.

What immediately surprised me was the on-screen characters breaking into song and choreographed dance to propel the story. I expected a gritty, realistic biopic of the hard years in John’s career, but instead got an upbeat “fantasy musical,” from the words of Egerton himself, that follows John from his youth as a musical prodigy to his rise to stardom and then his clash with drugs, sex, and bulimia and subsequent recovery from these demons.

I particularly enjoyed the musical aspect of the film. It was a great way of implementing some of John’s greatest hits, such as “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “I’m Still Standing,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Even if it did lead to the film feeling more episodic, songs were often used to seamlessly transition between large moments in John’s life, such as his rapid rise to stardom or his embracing of a more extravagant lifestyle after John Reid (Richard Madden), his lover and manager, prompts him.

Speaking of the music, it was great to see a significant portion of the cast actually sing the music in the context of the story. Taron Egerton especially shines as Elton John, embodying the flamboyant rockstar perfectly and showing off his prowess as an actor. Egerton makes it so easy to follow and understand John’s life during some of the most turbulent years of his life. At one point in the film, John, dressed as a dazzling rooster, looks at himself in a mirror backstage and swaps between his genuine face of pain and a forced cheeky smile. Moments later, he runs into longtime friend and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), takes out some of his frustration on him, moves backstage, and then reappears seconds after to apologize to Bernie for his behavior. Just in that snippet, we’re reminded how much John has spiraled out of control at that point in his life. Similar to this scene, it’s thanks to Egerton’s ease of showing both subtle and outright emotion when it is necessary that we can glean so much throughout the film.

The makeup and costume design are also wonderfully done. The many costumes of Elton John are lovingly recreated for this film and damn does Egerton look good in them. Whether it’s the first show outfit of a star-speckled shirt and white overalls or a fiery demon-angel suit or the damn Queen of England, moviegoers will not be bored watching Rocketman based off of the many costumes Egerton wears alone.

In terms of makeup, I really enjoy when makeup artists pull off aging the characters well over the course of the story. Egerton playing John before he makes it into the big leagues looks more energetic than the depressed John that tries to kill himself. Early John also looks remarkably younger than the tired John seeking rehab at the end of the film. Sure, you could always attribute these subtle details to the prowess of the actor, but the illusion wouldn’t hold up nearly as well if the makeup artists weren’t also good.

The film is captured in a very dynamic way to keep up with John’s energetic nature as well as emphasize the fact that it’s moreso a musical. The movie is fun to watch with its sparkly, brightly lit settings and more surreal moments, and the camera is not shy to show the nitty gritty when John’s life does start going off the rails. However, the special effects can be a bit excessive at times, especially considering the amount of slow-motion that is used. Yes, the slow-motion serves its purpose in highlighting the drama of the scene, but it can also confuse the scene if it’s not obvious where it is going and it makes the movie seem more outlandish than it already is at times.

Regardless, there were a lot of things done right in this film, from its smooth implementation of John’s music to the great performances by the cast to the faithful costume design. Rocketman will certainly be a fun ride for all moviegoers. Heck, I would go watch it again just so I can dance in my seat and watch Taron Egerton slay as Elton John.