The end of last year saw the release of a movie that defied expectations. The film was a small film based around the ups and downs of an iconic British performer, who struggled in life with depression, drugs and alcohol, this film was called Bohemian Rhapsody. The film of course went on to be a roaring success, becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year and even bagging a few Academy awards in the process. But that doesn’t mean the film didn’t have its own ups and downs behind the camera. In the earliest stages of its development, a little-known British actor/director named Dexter Fletcher was chosen to head the project, with Fletcher himself viewing the film as his creative baby. However, Fletcher soon found himself booted from the project, with infamous Hollywood director, Bryan Singer being brought in instead. Of course Singer is a controversial figure in any conversation, and although he did direct portions of the final product, it was Fletcher who actually completed the principal filming, basically saving the film from combusting.
During this time however, Fletcher was working on another project – a small film about the ups and downs of an iconic British performer, who struggled in life with depression, drugs and alcohol, this film was called Rocketman.
From the beginning of the film alone, the similarities between the films are apparent, with or without the knowledge of their shared creative eye. But in many ways, this film also acts as the antithesis of the Queen biopic. For one thing, Rocketman does not play like your typical biography, rather it feels more like a jukebox musical – with John’s songs being sung by the core cast in stylistic fantasy sequences. The film also practically borders on the boundaries of magic realism, with the direction and visuals being far more experimental than anything seen in Rhapsody. It feels almost as if Fletcher is trying to create the anti-Rhapsody with this film, as it seemingly subverts all that that film had to tell and offer. However, in that we also see one of the major issues with Rocketman as a film. For although it shows the downfall of a great performer, it does not end on the same bittersweet note as the acclaimed Bohemian Rhapsody. Unlike Freddie Mercury, Elton John did not die of AIDS and is in fact living a very happy and stable life with his husband and children – and although this both adorable and gratifying, it does make you question the film’s significance. Why try and follow in the footsteps of another film whose subject matter was so much more emotional and heart-breaking? It’s a strange choice, and it’s a choice that the film never seem capable of justifying.
The film also boasts quite the attractive cast, with some of Britain’s most eligible studs taking on the key roles. Taron Egerton, fresh off of Kingsmen, plays the title role of Elton John, making him look far more attractive and hunky than the real Elton ever did in his youth. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that John himself was a producer on this film, because the casting of Egerton feels a little too self-glorifying. But beyond the look, Egerton gives a strong performance in the film, especially when it comes to his vocals, which are just as powerful here as they were in Sing. Jamie Bell gives a likeable performance as Bernie Taupin, and Richard Madden portrays a way too good-looking John Reid, who injects his performance with just enough sleaze to make him unlikeable. Bryce Dallas Howard also deserves a shout out for her performance as Elton’s cruel and manipulative mother – Dallas knows how to play a horrible woman and she delivers this in droves. Beyond these cast members, everyone else does a decent job, although I doubt this film will receive the same kindness from the Academy as Rhapsody did.
But there are also merits to be given to this film, especially in how it chooses to portray both John’s addictions and his sexual orientation. This film, unlike Rhapsody, does not shy away from the fact that its core character is gay, with the film showing some graphic homosexual interactions for a mainstream Hollywood film. Unlike Rhapsody, the film actually shows John snorting cocaine, drinking profusely and even engaging in a debauched orgy of sin and grime. The short of it all is that although Rocketman may not be of the same quality and consistency as Bohemian Rhapsody, it definitely has some bigger balls. However, I have a feeling that this film won’t be remembered in history as the film that changed 2019, and nor do I think it will be the critical darling that Rhapsody was. But I do hope that this film marks the beginning of more overt LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream Hollywood films. Because it’s 2019, Hollywood has to accept that gay people exist and that they also have sex.