I’m a sucker for biopics about musicians. They get a lot of flack for being formulaic, oversimplifying the artist’s life and work, and placing their subject on a pedestal. I get that. But I think those reasons are part of why I like them; they transform the flawed, human musicians we love into mythic figures. Rocketman, the Sir Elton John biopic-musical hybrid, heavily leans into blurring the line between reality and fantasy, making it one of my favorite biopics in recent memory.
The spontaneous musical numbers, fantastical set pieces, and evocative reimagining of John’s songs aren’t just empty spectacle. It’s all in service to the story of a man seeking to protect his unloved inner child by hiding behind garish performance and unchecked hedonism. Come to think of it, that’s what a lot of biopics about musicians are about. But the dreamlike sequences and musical numbers elevate the by-the-numbers plot.
Having a likable lead in Tarron Edgerton also helps. One character observes that Elton John is an introverted extrovert, outgoing on stage but shy off stage. Edgerton nails this trait, oozing with confidence and swagger while performing at the piano while exuding vulnerability and loneliness while drinking vodka alone in his mansion.
The film does start to sag a bit during the obligatory drawn out spiraling sequence. It’s almost as the film glorifies drug and alcohol abuse while also condemning it. I’m thinking of one scene, in particular, that seems like it’s supposed to be a nightmarish orgy of substance and sex but comes off as good fun.
Minor complaint aside, I think Rocketman has a good chance of joining Get On Up, about James Brown, and Love & Mercy, about Beach Boy Brian Wilson, as one of my favorite music biopics.