You can’t help but compare “Rocketman” this year’s Elton John biopic to last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” which won newcomer Rami Malek a Best Actor Oscar for playing the late Freddie Mercury. Newcomer Taren Egerton, who plays (and sings in his own voice) Elton John MIGHT get an Oscar nomination for his yeoman effort in “Rocketman,” but he won’t win. It’s close, but no cigar. Egerton turns himself inside/out for this, his break out part. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much inside once he does that, and I’m so sure the real Elton John was/is more complex and interesting than this self-produced film makes him. Yes, Elton John produced this film, too.
It’s ALMOST the same story as “Bohemian”, and it covers roughly the same period, the ’70s British glam/rock scene, and focuses on a self-destructive gay pop icon. Similar, barely a millimeter apart, the two films are also directed by the same director Dexter Fletcher. I felt like I was watching the same film all over again.
Except that with “Bohemian Rhapsody” I was on was on the edge of my seat. Oscar Winner Rami Malek was raw, risky, heart-stopping, almost frightening as the wild and willful Mercury. And Egerton is comfortably middle of the road and I was in the middle of my seat, watching it. Not the edge.
Egerton is also unbelievably buff, though the Elton John constantly references how fat he is and what a crippling, life-long problem it was for him. Egerton’s hot bod is totally swoon-worthy (see below) He’s got a big, chunky butt and thick, rather magnificent thighs, which he is constantly sticking in the camera front and center. He’s petulant, not frightening, or doomed as Malek’s Mercury was. Mercury dies in the film of AIDS, and his one-night-stand persona totally justifies his demise.
Egerton’s got a strong supporting cast, but they are all flattened to the walls, and under-used. I always loved Jamie Bell in whatever he does. Since the original British “Queer as Folk,” he’s been knocking every performance he gives, out of the ball-park, but here, cast as Elton John’s life-long writing partner, Bernie Taupin, he isn’t allowed to do much except longingly look Elton/Egerton’s way, no matter how outrageously he’s dressing or behaving. Their duet of “Your Song” is the exception, where Bell is momentarily allowed to shine as he half-composes, half-inspires Egerton to write this great pop hit.
Egerton is least convincing in his rehab scenes. Yes, we see the whole film as a flash-back as he relates his drug induced experiences in a circle of a support group in a hospital facility. And he’s at his best in the gay sex scenes, director Dexter has wisely decided to include in THIS film. When a older black musician pushes him up against an alley wall in “Rocketman” and kisses him smack on his virgin lips, Egerton is totally freaked out and believable. I could have done with ten more of them. You don’t get enough of what Egerton really sizzles and excels at, which is kissing and having sex with other men.
The songs, of course, are wonderful, and staged as sort of numbers in a musical comedy would be, IF this was a stage play. “Rocketman,”the afore-mentioned “Your Song,””Tiny Dancer” and many, many others, resonate and please, and almost make up for the fact that everything else about this film is flimsy and forgettable, and as plastic as Elton’s many, many ornate sun-glasses. Bryce Dallas Howard is simply abominable as Elton’s self-centered monster mom.