Musician Biopics have become one of the stalest subgenres of movies, but Rocketman found a way to break through the mold.
Why is that? Well mostly because it came with a unique visual style. Not many other movies in this sub-genre have presented themselves in this way. The movie often drifts into fantasy scenes, that allow for creative and interesting shots, and give an excuse for extravagant production design. Rocketman is easily one of the most visually interesting Biopics I have seen in a while. It presents itself as a musical, with fantasy like dreams, that really captures the spirit of what Elton was all about.
One of the few things that are usually good about these movies is the acting, at least in terms of the subject matter. Bohemian Rhapsody was terrible, but Rami Malek was great. Taron Egerton keeps that trend going, with a masterful portrayal of Elton John. The difference is his great performance is in a good movie. Keep an eye on his name come Oscar season.
Another thing that makes it stand out is it didn’t nerf Elton John’s story. The worse part of Bohemian Rhapsody, besides the editing (it is still hilarious the worst edited movie of the year won an Oscar for editing), was that it wimped out on telling the darker parts of Freddy Mercury’s story. But Rocketman does not shy away from the fact that its subject was a gay man in the ’80s who experimented with a lot of drugs. I was worried about Elton John being involved that they would whitewash his own story just to avoid upsetting him, but apparently, Elton John has something called artistic integrity and was okay with them telling the truth, even if it did not always show him in the best light. The movie shows his issues, but also shows how he overcame them to become a better person.
It also showed the gay stuff, which is refreshing with how pathetic Hollywood can be with that stuff. I mean I remember a big deal being made of a “gay scene” in Beauty and the Beast, and all it turned out to be is two guys dancing with each other. The MPAA has a long history of censoring gay sex scenes, treating them far differently than straight sex scenes. This film as shown in theaters could have easily been PG-13, but the assholes at the MPAA decided to give it an R rating because two guys make out, and have implied off-screen sex. There have been movies that show way more sex, that got a pg-13 rating because the sex was between a man a woman. But let’s not get too far off track. I can rant about how homophobic and crappy the MPAA is in a future article. The point is the movie did not shy away from presenting a gay man as a gay man. It didn’t chicken out because it was worried it would result in an r rating, or get it banned in homophobic countries like China or Russia. We should not have to praise a movie for doing that. It should just be the norm, but hey, the world sucks so when a movie does something that should be normal we have to celebrate.
The music is, of course, great, since it is all of Elton John’s hits, sung by Taron Egerton who has a fantastic voice.
Now it isn’t perfect. Despite the unique visual style, the story itself still feels far too similar to other biopics. Starts with him as a kid, where he learns his talent and passion for music, then he gets in front of a skeezy producer who helps him make it big. At the height of his fame, he becomes an addict and almost loses everything, but then he pulls it together by the end. I understand this is actually the story of many musicians, and you can’t mess with a true story too much, but they could have at least find a unique way to tell the story.
Most of the emotional scenes work really well. The acting really helps carry it. But there were a couple moments where it felt forced. Such as his conflict with his parents. I thought those scenes were poorly handled, and it felt as though they were only included because the filmmakers felt like there needed to be a conflict at that point in the movie. It didn’t do anything for me, and when they were occurring I just wanted the movie to move on. Thankfully, it did, and as said almost all of the other emotional moments worked really well.
Overall though, I really liked this movie. It was refreshing for a biopic, it was true to its source, and the cinematography, set design, production, and costume design were all Oscarworthy. The story felt the same as many other biopics, but it at least presents it visually in a truly unique style. I highly recommend this movie, especially to anyone who is a fan of Elton’s music.