Over the years since its release, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story has matured into a masterful satire on the modern rock n' roll biopic. The rise and fall structure of these types of films is so universal. There is the artist's childhood where we see the seeds of their musical genius, the meeting with the unsure record executive, the breakout moment of success, the montage of record sales and hits, the descent into sex and drugs, and the redemptive comeback. Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman adheres to many of the same tropes and that narrative trajectory but infuses it with style and verve thanks to a great lead performance from Taron Egerton and some killer musical numbers.
Rocketman is a full-blown musical, a wise choice here given the flamboyance of its subject. The film is framed around an AA meeting where Elton John (Taron Egerton) begins to tell his tale. This structure allows the narrative to jump around in time freely, always connecting back to the meeting. We see his adolescence as a piano prodigy and the rocky-at-best relationship he has with his parents. This sets up one of the main themes of the film, that Elton is searching for a love he never got from his family. The plot is paint-by-numbers from there on.
At the center of the film is Egerton's dynamic performance. He does all his own singing here and it provides an authenticity that is rare for a music biopic. He isn't lost in fake teeth and lip-syncing like say Rami Malik in Bohemian Rhapsody. He fully embodies the role, making his Elton John feel like a real person and not a caricature. The two films will no doubt be compared and rightfully so, director Fletcher stepped in to save Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired for sexual misconduct. Rocketman shows us what he is truly capable of.
The best scenes in the film are it's wild, colorful and often trippy musical numbers. One of these is Elton's big moment at the Troubadour in LA. The scene features a nervous Elton John playing his first big American gig. Set to Crocodile Rock, the number brilliantly captures what it is like to see an artist fully emerge on stage. Elton begins to float at one point, suspended in air while playing the piano. Then the audience levitates and everything slows down. It is a dynamic moment that will stay with me for quite some time.
The supporting cast is often broad depictions of key people in Elton's life. Bryce Dallas Howard is a bit silly as his mother. Jamie Bell is much better as his writing partner Bernie Taupin. Richard Madden oozes a sexy cool as his business manager and one-time lover. The film, however, is Egerton, who grounds the film continually in the emotional journey of someone trying to find acceptance and love.
Rocketman also is aided by having an R-rating. The film is allowed to explore Elton's sexuality more explicitly than Bohemian Rhapsody was able to do with Freddie Mercury. Elton John himself was an executive producer on the film and fought hard for the rating, saying he didn't live a PG-13 life.
While the first two-thirds of Rocketman is energetic and captivating, the third act does falter a bit. Perhaps it spends too much time wallowing in his drug abuse as the film seems to slow down to a crawl in its final 30 minutes. Nevertheless, the musical numbers shine and make the film something that will be rewatched by many. Egerton earns a potential Oscar nomination.