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"ROCKETMAN"
(2019) (Taron Egerton, Jaime Bell) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Musical: While in AA, a world-famous musician recounts his early days, rise to success, and then battles with his various addictions.
PLOT:
Arriving at an AA meeting, world-famous musician Elton John (TARON EGERTON) admits to his various addictions and then begins to recount his tale, including being a young musical prodigy named Reginald Dwight with an emotionally distant father, Stanley (STEVEN MACKINTOSH), and a hot and cold mother, Sheila (BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD). Years later, and upon meeting songwriter Bernie Taupin (JAMIE BELL), Elton flourishes, with local record producer Dick James (STEPHEN GRAHAM) getting the work of the two noticed.

With one of Dick's workers, Ray Williams (CHARLIE ROWE), accompanying them, they head off to Los Angeles where they make a big splash, including eventually impressing record producer John Reid (RICHARD MADDEN) who steals Elton away from Dick while also becoming Elton's lover. But Elton's growing fame results in a growing addiction to booze and drugs, all of which threatens to derail his career and his various personal and professional relationships.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
If you watch most any biopic about any world-famous musician or singer, you'll likely notice a common pattern about their subjects. And that usually goes along the lines of having some sort of troubled childhood where music and/or musical talent is the saving grace or escape, with hard work and/or a lucky break leading to early gigs that turn into eventual success.

That's followed by flying high and enjoying the spoils of fame and fortune, only to have them partially or fully derailed by any number of addictions that threaten to ruin everything. It's happened in real life and been portrayed in biopics so many times that you'd think such history and cinematic recreations would be required study guides for those with a knack for music and the potential to strike it big.

The latest cautionary tale, "Rocketman," follows the story trajectory nearly beat for beat in telling the tale of world-renowned star Elton John who's been a household name for five decades and counting. But it does so with enough tweaks to the formula that you don't mind the predictable trajectory, even if you know little about the man's rise to success as well as his addictions.

Working from a script by Lee Hall, director Dexter Fletcher (who took over the reins of "Bohemian Rhapsody" when Bryan Singer was let go) opens with Elton (a good Taron Egerton, probably best known for his work in the "Kingsman" movies) dressed in one of his elaborate costumes making his way into an AA meeting where he openly admits he's a man of many addictions. What follows is a creative dive into the man's childhood and early years but with a twist.

And that is that many of those "look back" moments are presented in full movie musical mode where the song's lyrics serve as descriptive exposition in complementing the otherwise straight drama revolving around growing up with an initially supportive mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) and an emotionally distant and sometimes downright mean father (Steven Mackintosh). That's followed by meeting and platonically partnering with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jaime Bell) and then a business and romantic relationship with music manager John Reid (Richard Madden).

In other words, rather than doing straight up portrayals of the writing, rehearsal or stage performances of the songs as occurred with the recent "Bohemian Rhapsody" and other such films, we get creative movie musical versions where people suddenly break into song, dance and so on to represent the story at whatever point we're in regarding John's life at that moment.

And they're ones where the songs aren't always presented the way in which we've grown accustomed to hearing them. Diehard fans who hate artistic interpretation or any related changes to their beloved songs might not like the sound of that -- or of Egerton singing the songs himself rather than lip-synching to the real Elton.

But that's exactly what I liked about the storytelling and music (and musical) approach to telling this tale. It feels like a fantastical dream as filtered through a man's memories of his past, especially with many of the songs appearing out of chronological order and instead show up where needed for context, back-story, and themes.

Interestingly enough, and while listening to the movie's soundtrack while writing this review, I'm not as impressed with some of the interpretations of the familiar songs as I was while watching the film. That's probably because I'm uber-familiar with the original ones and Egerton, while a decent singer, isn't John and occasionally wavers in attempts to sound enough like the singer to get by. The likely reason, however, probably lies with the fact that they need to be heard as part of the overall visual presentation and as related to Egerton's strong performance.

In that complete context, those numbers and the overall film work quite well. And they certainly prove that this could make for a terrific stage musical should the powers that be decide to transition this story over to that other storytelling medium (it certainly has the look and feel of something designed with all of that already in consideration and ready to go).

Featuring creative interpretations of the well-known songs and a knockout portrayal by Egerton, "Rocketman" has no problem blasting off and staying in a highly entertaining, if familiar, orbit for the duration of the two-hour running time. The film rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed May 18, 2019 / Posted May 31, 2019


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