Larger than life

Philip Cu Unjieng - The Philippine Star
Larger than life
The film follows basic biopic formula, chronicling Elton John’s (played by Taron Egerton) childhood when he was tubby Reginald Dwight, and tracking his early days in music until he becomes an esteemd singer/songwriter.

Film review: Rocketman

MANILA, Philippines — When it comes to a living pop icon such as Sir Elton Hercules John, the question we often ask ourselves is what was the hit song that first made us aware of Elton and turned us into fans for life. In my case, surprisingly, it wasn’t Your Song, but Come Down In Time, from his 1979 Tumbleweed Connection album. So coming on the heels of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which chronicled Queen and Freddie Mercury’s rise and sad descent, I held high hopes for Elton’s biopic, Rocketman. Directed by actor/director Dexter Fletcher, it was nice to note that Dexter is the one who completed Rhapsody when original director Bryan Singer was dismissed.

In terms of storyline, Rocketman follows basic biopic formula, chronicling Elton’s childhood when he was tubby Reginald Dwight, and tracking his early days in music until he becomes singer/songwriter Elton John (Taron Egerton), and then transforms into the audacious, outrageous, sequin-encrusted pop peacock we best know him for. There’s the spiraling descent into drugs, alcohol, cocaine and gay liaisons that were empty and destructive — and in the end credits, the reassurance that sobriety and a happy marriage followed, as we all know Sir Elton is now an outstanding 72-year-old world citizen.

But it’s how director Dexter plays with this storyline that turns the film into sheer magic. He frames the film by first bringing on a middle-aged Elton who joins a rehab group in his full stage regalia, and begins to relate his sad childhood. There are deep issues with his mom Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his absentee, cold father (Steven Mackintosh). Integral to the story’s development is when Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who wrote the lyrics of Elton’s most popular hits, shows up. And of course, there’s lover and manager John Reid (Richard Madden), who made Elton question his self-worth even in the midst of his skyrocketing career.

It’s how Dexter brings on the hit songs of Elton that we’ll best remember this film for. Larger than life, extensively choreographed, rearranged with invention, these songs constantly surprise and leave us giddy with excitement. Especially look out for Rocket Man and Crocodile Rock to witness Dexter’s wizardry and imagination. More than musical interludes, they become flights of fantasy — signifiers for particular junctures in Elton’s life, or showcasing very strong emotions emanating from Elton.

Taron as Elton is magnificent, and if we were impressed with Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury, be aware that Taron not only acts and dances, but uses his own voice when singing is required in this film. If you watched the animated feature Sing in 2016, Taron voiced and sang the part of the young gorilla, who, in an instance of precious foreshadowing, sang Elton’s I’m Still Standing during the amateur talent night.

There is a bit of a letdown at the film’s very end; as in having taken us on such an exceptional musical journey, the film doesn’t really know how to end. But serving its purpose of being a cautionary tale of stardom, excess and recognizing self-worth, there’s so much to love about this film, we’re ready to forgive this lethargic close. For a larger-than-life character such as Elton, we’re gifted with this larger-than-life film treatment!

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