Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Rocketman: a Brief Evisceration

Rocketman -- a review by FilmZ

I'm taking the reins from Guy S. Malone, Researcher on this one for the sake of Elton John.  Full disclosure: I didn't want to see the movie, either; after being a huge Elton John fan in the '70s, his songs became so overplayed that I'm just done (except for "Your Song").  And the Czarina warned me that the movie was dark, dark, dark, which cinched it.  But Serfing Dude, a connoisseur of classic rock said he "really wants to see it," and Don Swedanya said he would see anything that didn't have super heroes in it.  So, off we went, despite my desire to see Dark Phoenix--a Monty Python romp, by comparison.

First the positives.  The foundation is solid: it's directed by Dexter Fletcher (the man who saved Bohemian Rhapsody after Brian Singer was fired); it contained some of the most iconic music from a rock icon; it had an excellent cast, headed by Taron Egerton as Elton John, Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Bryce Dallas Howard as EJ's Mum, Gemma Jones as Grandmum, and Richard Madden as John Reid, EJ's manager.  Fletcher brought out convincing performances, top to bottom.

Rocketman, though, seems unable to decide what it wants to be: a rock biopic, a musical, a surreal fantasy, a group counseling session on excessive behavior, a poison pen letter to EJ's parents.  So, it tries to be everything and ends up being less than the sum of its parts as it jolts from genre to genre and backward and forward in time like a kidney-busting wooden roller coaster.  Even songs are played out of chronological order--as a pre-fame late 1960's teen, he performs "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting," a song not introduced until 1973's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album.  The film does check all of the tropes of musical biopics: the sensitive child, misunderstood by his parents; the recognition of talent; the skeptical recording executive; the rapacious (in this case, literally) manager; the big break, followed by a (ahem) rocket-ride to stardom; the downward spiral of substance abuse; the reckoning; the recovery.  The focus--too much--is on the excesses and the demons they rain down on Elton, and it's only in epilogue that we see happiness come to him.

Inevitably, Rocketman will be compared to Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, to its detriment, we believe.  Several small warnings and one big one: While BR and ASiB are dramatic films with music, Rocketman is a musical with some big choreographic numbers.  Those musical pieces and the flights of fantasy take us away from the story (big turnoffs to Serfing Dude).  As good as Egerton is (he does his own singing, unlike Rami Malek in BR) and as great as Elton John's music is, those interludes are not energetic enough to lift us from the downbeat pall of self-indulgence, self-loathing, and self-destruction that weights the film.  Compared to Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody is inspirational, and A Star is Born provides much better balance, leavening humor and drama and a cinematic flow and synergy between story and lyrics.  But the worst, as pointed out by Don Swedanya, is the portrayal of Elton John's homosexuality.  This is surprising for an effort championed by John himself.  As portrayed in Rocketman, a person of the evangelical persuasion could conclude that Elton John's homosexuality was not genetic but rather a product of an overly strict, uncaring father and a vapid, distant mother, and thus make EJ a candidate for gay conversion "therapy."  To us, this is the major crime of Rocketman.
5.0 out of 10, strictly for the attempt at originality and the across the board performances


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