July 20 , 2019. By Christian Tesfaye( Christian Tesfaye was Fortune’s Op-Ed Editor and currently works as a researcher. He can be reached at [email protected] )

Elton John has finally gotten a biopic. It succeeds in capturing his spirit even as it fails at finding an original way of depicting a rock star. Christian Tesfaye awards 6 out of 10 stars.

It was only a matter of time before Elton John got his own biopic. he was not only a talented celebrity, he was larger than life, a term used to describe people who would have been social pariahs had they not become rich and famous.

Elton John gave us the heart-warming “Your Song,” the stunning “Rocket Man,” and what are nothing less than marks of musical genius, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Tiny Dancer.” The least Hollywood can do is give him a biopic, even if a rather mediocre one.

Rocketman traces the life of John (Taron Egerton) beginning from childhood. Always a strange little kid with oversized sunglasses, he liked playing the piano from a young age. But soon he gets hooked on Elvis Presley and the new wave of Rock and Roll, leading him to become an aspiring rock-and-roller by his early 20s.

His fortunes begin to change when he meets songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), whom John would go on to collaborate with for decades. Their first few tries take them nowhere. But a little song with beautiful, haunting lyrics and a flowing melody, called “Your Song,” puts John in the spotlight. As far as his music career is concerned, it is smooth sailing from there on - subsequent hits would make John one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

Of course, let us face it, his later songs are no match for how moving his earlier work was. His best songs are limited to the early 1970s - what came later was, to any serious music lover, so-so. The fact that John was never able to replicate in later life the unique touch his earlier work was able to infuse is never explored in the biopic, and the movie is the poorer for it.

His personal life does not fare as much as his career though. His introverted disposition, celebrity life, sexual orientation and a few major wrong choices join forces to turn him into a cocaine, alcohol and sex addict. The film follows John as he struggles to come to terms with the sources of his addiction and claw his way into normalcy.

Rocketman is a nice enough movie. It is definitely corny, and there are no memorable scenes. But it is a movie that is perfectly capable of allowing some temporary enjoyment thanks to the playfulness of the direction, its pacing and an assortment of John’s hits.

But the film has one major problem. It may be  based on a true story, but the plot is way too predictable.

Do we really need yet another movie about a 1970s rock star with a drug problem? What is next, a writer with asocial behaviour, a former soldier with PTSD, a Wall Street banker with a rock for a heart?

These are scenarios that have been explored several times over. It is about time that they call for a break. Biopics about musicians should be a little more creative than this, even if the musician did suffer from a drug addiction that needs to be addressed.

If this movie evokes too many memories of Bohemian Rhapsody, it is not a coincidence. Rocket Man is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who also served as last-minute replacement for Bryan Singer on the Freddie Mercury biopic.

This movie is notably different in its use of fantasy elements. Unfortunately, Fletcher does not succeed in smoothly integrating this into the movie without trailing off from the dramatic aura the rest of the film exudes. It is not even clear why it was that important to go in that direction when John’s performances, outfits and disposition were colourful enough in their own right.

The strength of this movie is the performances. Egerton plays John as good as anyone could have played him. Bell, a highly underrated actor, does an even more impressive job playing John’s long-time friend, Taupin.

The movie fares not unlike John’s later work. It is less the cinematic equivalent of “Tiny Dancer.” It is much more in the league of the mainstream “I’m Still Standing.”

PUBLISHED ON Jul 20,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1003]


Drop us a message

Or see contact page