First off, it was a wise move to have a new face,acting wise, play the lead role here. Taron Egerton(best known as Eggsy from the Kingsmen films) really gets to shine here, not only being easily believable as Elton but at times, you forget that he's an actor playing a part. His emotional range makes you feel like the true Elton John is onscreen, sharing his heartfelt joys and sorrow with a song or two at the ready.
He then starts to narrate his life story, using his vast catalogue of music as emotional stepping stones, so don't expect chronological order in that department. The rest of the film follows him from shy and lonely young Reginald Dwight to the epic musician that he becomes, battling his inner demons who are along for the ride.
The musical interludes are well blended into the film, making this whole production feel like an adaptation of a Broadway show that decided to skip a stage run(although, it could be taken to that format rather smoothly). It makes sense, given that Elton John, who is one of the executive producers of the movie, has done several theatrical musicals over the years and this allows him as well as the other filmmakers the creative freedom to bring this special story to vivid cinematic life:
Even in scenes where they're not directly dealing with each other, you feel the bond between Elton and Bernie, sharing good times and at key points, growing apart. Their connection is one of the best here,enhancing the emotional stakes for all involved:
Other stand out performances include Gemma Jones as Elton's doting grandmother Ivy, who is a welcome delight here to many fans of British cinema like me and yes, she's in the Bridget Jones and Harry Potter movies to boot.
Also, to get a bit more Brit flick fangirl here, she's the mother from Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility(with one of her co-stars from that film,Harriet Walter, making a brief appearance as a music teacher) so all those boxes are checked!
Even more so of a presence is Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton's mother Sheila and I have to say that she is damn good at playing horrible people. Between this and her prior role as Hilly Holbrook in The Help, BDH is a villianess for the ages.
Granted, his father is a terrible person as well but his mother,as portrayed here, is a nightmare with her cold hearted disinterest in anything that doesn't engage her attentions, combined with a pack of passive aggressive critiques that instantly flow from her lips. You can see how psychologically destructive she was to her son over the years and a key contributor to his future issues in life:
You might think that with Elton John as executive producer, some of his less than attractive behavior might be glossed over. Instead, the movie does strongly highlight his struggles with various addiction(drugs,alcohol,shopping), a dysfunctional personal and professional relationship with his music manager and his bouts of unchecked rage.
Unlike last year's Bohemian Rhapsody(more on that in a moment), Rocketman feels unrestrained when it comes to showing a warts-and-all version of it's leading man. Perhaps with Elton around to give the nod, screenwriter Lee Hall felt freer to focus on those aspects fully and some of the best musical numbers in the film are centered on those downward spiral moments.
Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody, the big question here is "Is Rocketman a better movie?" To that, I have to say yes in many respects. While both movies featured talented actors in the leading roles who do justice to the real life subjects, Egerton, unlike Rami Malek, does not have to bring the material up to a higher level all on his own.
Rather, Taron Egerton is conducting an orchestra of talented cast and crew, from the costumes to the music and the direction of Dexter Fletcher(who, ironically enough, completed the directing duties on Bohemian Rhapsody after the removal of it's controversial director). Hopefully, this movie will be remembered when Oscar nomination time is upon us as there will be plenty of people all too happy to remind the Academy if this is not so!
If you can see Rocketman in theaters either this weekend or sometime soon, I fervently recommend that you do as it's well worth the price of admission. Certainly more obtainable than a Broadway musical and just as entertaining,plus Egerton does his own singing for the film. He's truly a rising star with this film and I look forward to seeing him climb to even greater heights, careerwise(and yes, he ought to be Oscar nominated, I'm saying it now!):