Elton John biopic Rocketman an 'occasionally thrilling' musical blast
Damon Smith watches as Taron Egerton channels the musical genius of Elton John in director Dexter Fletcher's biopic Rocketman
ROCKETMAN (15, 121 mins) Drama/Musical/Romance. Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh, Gemma Jones, Stephen Graham, Tate Donovan, Kit Connor, Rachel Muldoon. Director: Dexter Fletcher.
Rating: three stars
EXECUTIVE produced by Elton John and directed by Dexter Fletcher, substitute captain of Oscar-winning juggernaut Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman is an occasionally thrilling but largely conventional biopic that won't go breaking the hearts of the singer-songwriter's fans.
Scriptwriter Lee Hall, who pirouetted to the Academy Awards with Billy Elliot, attempts to serve John's competing personalities: moments of quiet introspection for the self-doubting introvert who is emotionally bruised by his childhood, and splashes of eye-popping spectacle for the flamboyant peacock who escapes reality with snorts of nose candy.
The polite amalgamation of Bohemian Rhapsody and The Greatest Showman is easy to admire but harder to unabashedly adore, and only truly achieves lift-off in the spectacularly choreographed musical set-pieces that energise a briskly sketched opening hour.
The lyrics of I Want Love becomes a cri de coeur for young Reginald Dwight (Kit Connor) and his fractured clan – stern military father Stanley (Steven Macintosh), flighty mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and supportive grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones).
Each member of the household appropriates lines from the song to echo their inner turmoil as Fletcher's camera glides around the family home.
Reg dances energetically from child to man (played by Taron Egerton) to the foot-stomping beat of Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting and the enduring bromance with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) touchingly takes shape as the melody of Your Song reverberates from the piano in the Dwights' living room.
"I love you mate... but not like that," whispers Bernie after Reg moves in for an ill-advised kiss.
The film traces Reg's metamorphosis into Elton Hercules John via formative years signed to DJM Records, whose profanity-spewing founder Dick James (Stephen Graham) simply demands "songs that grey-haired tramps can whistle in the street".
John and Taupin oblige and are rewarded with two gigs at The Troubadour club in Los Angeles owned by Doug Weston (Tate Donovan).
The touch paper on stardom is lit and John Reid (Richard Madden) worms his way into Elton's affections and bed, adopting the role of personal manager as the singer gorges on all-you-can-eat buffet of sex, drugs, booze and self-loathing.
Rocketman labours the damage wrought by John's old man, who rejects little Reg's request for a hug by tersely retorting, "Don't be soft".
Egerton is endearing and goes one better than Oscar-winner Rami Malek by singing John's songs rather than lip-syncing original vocals.
The script doesn't sidestep John's homosexuality nor does it convincingly unravel the psychological power struggle between the singer and the Machiavellian and controlling Reid, who was a similarly toxic presence in Bohemian Rhapsody.
When Doug Weston advises John to "put on a great show and don't kill yourself with drugs," Fletcher's straps on a feathered headdress and does its best to oblige.