Published May 31, 2019"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"
It's a question many asked in response to last year's Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which came under fire for major factual errors. And given the similarities between Bohemian Rhapsody and Elton John biopic Rocketman — not only do both films focus on legendary queer British pop icons of the '70s, but Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher stepped behind the camera for Bohemian Rhapsody after director Bryan Singer was fired during production — it's easy to view the two films in direct competition.
But Rocketman answers "Bohemian Rhapsody"'s opening question in its first few minutes, with a dreamy dance sequence that spans an AA meeting in the early '90s to John's childhood in '50s England: this isn't some gritty, realistic biopic, it's an over-the-top look at one of modern music's most inventive, ostentatious figures through the lens of his own aesthetic. And it's all the better for it.
Fantastical elements — non-diegetic musical numbers, performance sequences shot like music videos, the occasional levitating concertgoer — add a very John-esque quality throughout. Artistic liberties with the facts behind the story — like the origin of John's own stage name — are played off in campy fashion. It's a film that doesn't take itself too seriously, but is teeming with heartwarming moments, which makes it as fun as an Elton John concert.
It's all anchored by Taron Egerton's leading performance, bringing a mischievous edge to his portrayal of John that makes him a compelling protagonist (plus he provides all of his own vocal performances, which are impressive). The film also stacks Egerton's John against a series of foils, including his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and manager-boyfriend John Reid (Richard Madden), who craft human dynamics and draw out the nuances in Egerton's performance.
It all comes off as a film adaptation of a Broadway musical that never existed, replete with dance breaks and plot conveniences, though it wraps itself up a little too neatly in its last act, ending rather unceremoniously. Ultimately, though, Rocketman is a fitting tribute to John's life and career, offering a fun, feel-good look at the icon's highs and lows.