The Movie Guru: Taron Edgerton delivers a masterful performance in ‘Rocketman’
Rated: R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
Screenplay by: Lee Hall
Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Tom Bennett, and more
Guru’s grade: Four stars (out of five)
It turns out I love Elton John with all my heart.
I hadn’t been aware of this before watching “Rocketman,” the new musical biopic taking to the theaters. This is probably because this feeling doesn’t actually connect to the real Elton John, though I like him just fine and think he’s an excellent musician. I don’t even love his music, really, though I enjoy several of his songs and will happily sing along with them at any opportunity.
But I do love John as Taron Edgerton portrays him in the movie, a shy boy with terrible parents who thought he had to become someone else in order for people to love him and his music. I wanted to wrap that fictionalized version of the man up in blankets and tell him not to listen to the terrible advice people were giving him. Occasionally, I wanted to push certain other characters out of windows so they would stop hurting him.
Edgerton is the secret weapon and beating heart of “Rocketman,” a journey through John’s past that only works if you care about the character. Edgerton is the key to that, delivering a heartbreaking, emotional performance that’s easily the best of his career. There are plenty of times when the camera simply zooms in for a close-up on Edgerton’s face, letting his acting pull us inside the story, and he delivers every time.
The movie starts with John in therapy, with his life from childhood framed as stories he’s telling the counselor. Those already familiar with John’s life will know some of the main beats, including an emotionally distant father and a serious drug problem, but you don’t need to know anything about his life to understand what is going on. There’s also a killer assortment of John’s music, sung beautifully by Edgerton himself.
In fact, the movie is as much a musical as “The Greatest Showman,” so much so that you can practically see the stage version happening in front of you as you watch the movie. The characters break out into musical numbers in exactly the same way they do in musicals, and significant events are communicated through either duets or dance numbers.
Still, it manages to feel more honest than last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” John himself was heavily involved in the production, but there’s a remarkable lack of whitewashing. Though it’s smoothed along by dance sequences and stage-like transfers, John is surprisingly honest about just how low he fell and the mistakes he made that brought him there.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that John takes far, far too long to hit bottom. But it feels that way because we want him to get better, drawn in so thoroughly by Edgerton that we have a stake in what’s happening in front of us. Odds are, you’ll be singing “Rocketman” all the way home from the theater.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.