Rocketman, the biopic of legendary piano man Elton John, exists in familiar territory. Yet it manages to do so in an often inventive fashion with a commanding performance by its lead. The pic is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on BohemianRhapsody when Bryan Singer was dumped. They share similar themes of a shy boy coming into his own as an eventual iconic music figure. Unlike Rhapsody, Taron Egerton quite capably and bravely provides the vocal work of the man he’s playing.
The opening finds Elton in a high place both literally and figuratively as he’s about to once again play to a sold out crowd. He’s also at a low in terms of multiple kinds of addiction. Finally asking for help via Alcoholics Anonymous, Lee Hall’s screenplay then provides the framework for flashbacks of his life. It begins with him as the pint sized Reginald Dwight in 1950s England. He’s ignored by his father (Steven Mackintosh) and treated with ambivalence by his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard). His discovery of the piano is a watershed moment. Reginald has natural talent but a laser focus on perfecting the craft.
His most significant encounter comes through Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). He writes the songs and Elton provides the melodies. Bernie is often the only figure in his life who genuinely cares about the newly christened Elton. Fighting through timidity, the newly named vocalist gets loud on the mic and with his outfits. Fame, fortune, and drug addiction follow as they so frequently do.
Those plot points are as known as the lyrics to many Elton tunes. Lucky for us, this isn’t just about a musician. It’s a genuine musical with tightly choreographed numbers set to high energy bangers like “Saturday Night’s Alright” and “The Bitch is Back” and contemplative pieces like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and the title track. It has the second best movie scene set to “Tiny Dancer”. It’s a tall order to top AlmostFamous.
Elton’s love life and homosexuality are explored from an ill-conceived marriage to a woman to his turbulent romance with manager John Reid (Richard Madden). By the time “I’m Still Standing” rises over the speakers, I felt pretty satisfied with this journey through his career and road to sobriety. There’s certainly a theme of Elton forging through his issues and creating his own reality with his outlandish persona. He may not have written all of the words that skyrocketed him to superstardom, but he provided the unforgettable notes. Rocketman often succeeds at capturing them.
After a stellar premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Rocketman plays its way into theaters next weekend. The long planned biopic of legendary piano man Elton John starring Taron Egerton comes on the heels of similar genre entry and smash hit BohemianRhapsody. It even shares a director in Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on the Freddie Mercury tale after Bryan Singer was dropped from the project. Costars here include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
The film’s French Riviera rollout resulted in praise for Egerton. An Oscar nod for him (especially after Rami Malek won in 2018 as Mercury) is certainly feasible. Some reviews were mixed, but this currently holds an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score.
As mentioned, the easiest comp is Rhapsody, which debuted to an amazing $51 million in November with $216 million total domestically. However, while buzz is strong here, it likely won’t reach those heights in the busy summer season. I still think mid to high 30s can be reached and that would have Elton’s story still standing tall.
Rocketman opening weekend prediction: $36.1 million
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The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing over in France and the highest profile feature so far has screened (with Quentin Tarantino’s OnceUponaTimeinHollywood following next week). That would be Rocketman, a flashy musical biopic featuring Taron Egerton as legendary performer Elton John. Costars include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
Ahead of its May 31st stateside bow, festival goers rewarded the pic with a lengthy standing ovation (with Elton and Egerton attending). This might prove to be an audience pleaser. Some early reviews are glowing while others are more mixed.
Box office could be strong, but will this blast off with awards voters? We have very recent history to consider. I’m referring, of course, to last year’s BohemianRhapsody. Despite its rocky critical reaction, that film was a hit with audiences and Oscar voters. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up winning four gold statues, including Rami Malek’s portrayal of the Queen frontman in Best Actor.
Rhapsody made an astonishing $903 million worldwide. Rocketman may not reach that territory. If it does, it could be impossible to ignore. Yet even if it turns out to be a sizable crowd favorite, Academy voters could nominate this in a variety of categories. That includes Picture, Actor, and the sound races (for which Bohemian was victorious in both). The comparisons between Rhapsody and Rocketman don’t end there. Dexter Fletcher took over directorial duties from Bryan Singer on the former. He is behind the camera again for the latter.
Bottom line: there’s a chance that voters might not honor Mr. John like they did Mr. Mercury, but Cannes reaction at least indicates it’s a possibility. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…