Re:View – ‘Rocketman’
Dexter Fletcher started out as an actor in blokey British gangster films and appeared in around 100 before turning director. When he was pulled in to sort out the mess of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ he once again showed his instinctive understanding of how music works. Queen never struck me as being particularly interesting or talented beyond being able to make a stadium stamp its feet (a far better representation of Freddie Mercury can be found in the Live Aid episode of ‘Urban Myths’) but the final film was hauled from the ashes and made to work.
Fletcher had already made another music film that succeeded brilliantly, ‘Sunshine on Leith‘, which used the music of the Proclaimers to surprisingly powerful effect. The director loves underdogs. In ‘Eddie the Eagle’ he showed us a very British sports hero – one who becomes famous by failing. But ‘Rocketman’ was sanctioned by Elton John himself and produced by his husband, so would the story of a star’s familiar rise-fall-rise pattern become a jukebox whitewash?
Surprisingly not, it turns out, because the film takes the same approach to its material as ‘All That Jazz’, turning the hurtling events of Dwight’s life into a fantasia melding musical numbers with broad-strokes scenes that deal with the issues, encompassing roots, discovery, success, coming out, marriage, crash, suicide and reinvention.
Although the dialogue is sometimes on the nose (from ‘Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall) two things lift it from cliche. First, Taron Egerton’s extraordinary performance goes far beyond impersonation, giving us a different kind of star, one crippled by childhood shyness and haunted by the casually callous dismissal of his talents by parents who were alternately ashamed and jealous of his life.
Second, Fletcher’s intelligent approach to music lands song after song, even though they are edited to snippets. When John performs at LA’s Troubadour his performance becomes literally weightless before punching in the familiar piano chord. When he sings ‘Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting’ he charges toward the screen in anger, climbing through the debris of a dozen pub fights, while ‘Rocketman’ is turned into a balletic fight by doctors and nurses to keep him alive.
Manager John Reid comes across as a lot nicer than I remember him, and lyricist Bernie Taupin (whom Jamie Bell in no way resembles) provides the ‘I love you, man’ support, if only by regularly handing him envelopes containing words, but it’s Egerton’s show and Fletcher generously hands it to him. It’s amazing how many songs you realise you know from just two or three opening notes. The unusual selection might have you arguing after, but all in all, this couldn’t have turned out better.