Right enough of this nonsense. Time to return to blogging.
(Warning: contains spoilers for Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody)
I'll be honest, it hasn't been a crackingly good year for cinematic film releases as yet. There's been a few that have been good that I simply haven't had a lot to say about ("Hurrah!" says you, dear reader.) But the past few weeks have thrown up a couple of gems, and two in particular have got my inner film critic pondering. One is Rocketman.
|Not the recommended way to play a piano...|
I've been looking forward to this film with some trepidation. It's been promoted and trailed since about this time last year (which is usually a cause for disappointment, in my experience). I really looked forward to Bohemian Rhapsody and was frustrated by how good it could have been (but wasn't, in my opinion). But I also reasoned that Rocketman hasn't been dogged by the same production and creative difficulties as Bohemian Rhapsody. Plus the trailers seemed to suggest a strong fantasy element to storytelling, which looked interesting. Off to the cinema I traipsed.
I was not disappointed. The film charts the progression of a precocious but shy Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley) - living at home with his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard), dad (Steven Mackintosh) and grandmother (Gemma Jones), and his metamorphosis into Elton John (Taron Egerton) - exploring his limits with increasingly flamboyant performances and lifestyles, making and breaking relationships along the way. Tantrums and tiaras ensue.
The story is peppered with familiar Elton John hits, some performed as a logical part of the story (Elton musingly working out how to turn Bernie Taupin's lyrics into songs), others performed as fantasy sequences that wouldn't be out of place in a musical (I Want Love, for example, being used as a remarkably efficient device to explain the relationship difficulties each of young Reggie's family members has, but will never verbalise). All the songs are performed by Egerton, and the orchestration and remaking of familiar tunes is particularly successful - the scoring of the title track with a full orchestra is beautiful and worth listening out for.
The fantasy sequences themselves work well as a way of chronicling Elton's drug use - for example, Rocketman partially takes place at the bottom of a swimming pool, with Elton so fascinated by the underwater antics that it takes other people to haul him out before he drowns. At a point where he literally visualises himself as a rocket man, we see him crash on to a plane and come to in the middle of a conversation with no idea what's going on around him or where he is. It's a disorienting effect - providing a contrast between real life and hallucination, and giving some sense of the drug-addled mindset in which Elton finds himself. Occasionally it's a little on the nose - Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting didn't have to be literally set to a weekend punch up, but was pleasing nonetheless. It also frees the story from a strict chronology - an unreliable narrator with multiple substance issues can be forgiven for not quite having a tight grasp on the world around him.
The supporting cast provide a varied background for Egerton to project on to. In particular, Jamie Bell (as Bernie Taupin) and Richard Maddern (as John Reid) give noteworthy performances. Although the story of two friends who want different things from life is a well trodden film path, Bell portrays a realistic bewilderment of not quite understanding how he's managed to get from talking about cowboy songs in a greasy spoon café, to being in LA while his friend dons more and more elaborate outfits and makes more and more outrageous demands. However, he also manages to present a steady influence throughout, and it is unsurprising to find that he's pretty much the only one still standing when Elton hits rock bottom. The film is clearly a love letter to Taupin and John's relationship, two men who clearly understand each other completely on a level that neither really can explain. Richard Maddern offers the exact opposite as John Reid - almost sociopathic, but utterly charming. It's easy to see why people would love him, and be devastated to discover that it's not as much as he loves himself.
|Can You Feel the (Plantonic) Love Tonight...?|
|Standard dress code for the average therapy session...|
For my money, nearly halfway through the year, this is by far my favourite film of 2019. There's plenty of time for that to be changed, but at this moment this is the film that has stayed with me long after the credits have rolled. Yes, even more so than Avengers: Endgame. I'm already looking forward to watching it again.
Additional thoughts, questions and comments:
- In terms of box office, Bohemian Rhapsody is making a lot more box office money than Rocketman. One reason for this is the 12A rating, compared to the 15 rating of this film (something hotly argued by the film studios). Why would anyone try to make this story a 12A? Who would that even be for? As Elton John put it "they wanted me to tone down the sex and drugs. But I haven't led a PG-13 life." Fair point.
- Astonishingly, this is the first major studio film to depict gay male sex.
- The credit sequence gives a series of images comparing the outfits in the film with the real life versions, possibly as an attempt at saying "no, it was really like this. We didn't make it up."
- I like to this was Taron Egerton's audition for the film.