“Rocketman” opens with an ornate Elton John (Taron Egerton) entering into a bright light, kind of like the way Freddie Mercury did “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
John isn’t going to the concert that will define his life. He’s going into rehab for a multitude of addictions, including drugs, sex and alcohol.
Less of a straightforward biopic and more of a fantastical, Baz Luhrmann-esque musical, “Rocketman” is like John’s gaudy stage clothes — flashy, messy and, at times, fun.
Instead of attempting to replicate John, Egerton plays more of a broad caricature of the English rock star. He’s goofy, but ultimately flawed and in need of love he never received as a child.
Opening with a “Pleasantville”-like black-and-white intro of John’s modest Middlesex neighborhood singing “The Bitch is Back,” with the neighborhood harmonizing and performing synchronized dancing, “Rocketman” isn’t aiming for accuracy as much as it is bombast.
John gets emotionally beaten down by his mother, Sheila Eileen (Bryce Dallas Howard, in a cartoonishly evil performance) and neglected by his absent father, Ray (Charlie Rowe). His only escape and source of validation: Playing the piano.
John’s life takes a turn when his live performances of cover songs connect him with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Together, they literally levitate off of the ground, as a performance of the movie’s titular song causes the audience to float around the venue.
With fame comes all the traps that John falls into, including John Reid, a vengeful boyfriend and manager, undiagnosed depression and those mentioned addictions.
The movie does many favors for itself by being slightly divorced from reality. It gives us the highlights of John’s rise to fame, while also showcasing some impressive vocal and visual performances by Egerton.
While his resemblance to John doesn’t go far past a gap tooth and receding hairline, Egerton’s performance brims with charisma and an onscreen presence that sells him as the icon. Director Dexter Fletcher, who helmed “Bohemian Rhapsody” after director Brian Singer was fired, sometimes lets him play the character a little too loose and over the top, but Egerton is able to rein it in with quieter moments shared with Bell.
Sometimes, “Rocketman” is a little too on the nose. When John’s life is spinning out of control, it’s depicted by the camera quickly twirling around him in his many costumes onstage as he performs “Pinball Wizard.” When Taupin walks out of John’s life, “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” serves as the soundtrack to his exit.
Beholden only to John’s masterful hits and the broad points of his life, the movie’s loose depiction, despite some sloppiness, often soars with life and energy.
— Andrew Gaug | ST. JOE LIVE