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Why ‘Rocketman’ is actually a fairly sad story despite all its flash and brilliance

Rocketman could have ended up an exercise in bombastic vanity, given that its subject, Elton John, is one of music’s biggest-selling artists and a star as renowned for his ego as he is for his eccentricity.

Instead, John, who executive-produced Rocketman, uses it as a kind of cathartic vehicle – getting demons out of his system, if you like – and, unlike typical biopics which treat their subjects as saint-like heroes (produced posthumously more often than not), this life story throws the rawer, rockier stuff into the laps of its audience members.

There’s decadence and drugs and dependency on designer clothing; name-calling and bitching and in-family fighting; affairs and outbursts and outrageous accusations; dodgy business dealings and debauched party scenes – and all cut to the format of a good old-fashioned musical.

At the heart of the braggadocio is really a shy guy doing everything he can to distract folks from the fact that his self esteem and ego are actually far smaller than we think.

Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel) does a remarkable job in emulating Elton John – and them are some big shoes to fill! The actor appears to have studied the artist’s every gesture, from the flapping about of jewel-heavy hands to the slightest, nervous twitch of the eyes, exaggerating these trademarks only just, if only for big-screen effect. Put simply, Elton would have been smiling from ear to ear in post-production at how uncannily a representation of him Egerton delivers.

As to the talent side of things, Egerton does a great job at singing, too. In fact, if I’m truly honest, Taron’s take on some of Elton’s songs that I’ve previously not been keen on – such as Honky Cat and The Bitch is Back – now have me downloading the rebooted versions for keeps.

Other classics have been tinkered with courtesy of orchestral strings and the occasional a capella treatment (Tiny Dancer, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the title track) to give fans something way different to what they’re used to hearing – unlike Bohemian Rhapsody which kept most of Queen’s songs in their familiar guise and had actor Rami Malek lip-synching to every track.

At one point in Rocketman, Egerton shifts from a dramatic scene straight into music video mode – emulating every move of Elton’s in the I’m Still Standing clip as if he’d studied it a hundred times.

On paper, the life (so far) of Elton John – delivered as a musical – could have had investors and scriptwriters running for the hills. It might well have risked being turned into a messy Glee-meets-Mardi-Gras type affair. Instead, Rocketman is stylish, honest, at times even brutal, but – best of all – fun. It’s a biopic that’s not afraid to depict its subject’s many excesses while also paying tribute to his talent. And at the same time, yes, it is a little vain in its back-patting.

It is odd for an artist to executive-produce a biopic about himself – this alone would make you think he had major tickets on himself. But for all its self-congratulation, there’s a certain element of humility in this film. Elton John might come across as one of the biggest show-offs on the planet, with all his over-the-top costumes and big-mouth critique, but at the heart of the braggadocio is really a shy guy doing everything he can to distract folks from the fact that his self esteem and ego are actually far smaller than we think.

On paper, the life (so far) of Elton John – delivered as a musical – could have had investors and scriptwriters running for the hills. It might well have risked being turned into a messy ‘Glee’-meets-Mardi-Gras type affair.

At any rate, while Rocketman has been dubbed by some critics as a ‘victory dance’ of sorts, it never forgets its number one aim: to give  audiences what they want, and give them lots of it.

Antonino Tati

 

‘Rocketman’ is in cinemas now.

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