However, it's Jamie Bell who stole the entire show for me, making me wish he was in more of the movie than the small part he played. Bell captured Taupin's love for John, his struggle with what fame was doing to their lives and friendship, and his sweet commitment to the duo's magical pairing. I loved every minute of Bell's portrayal. Too bad that amounted to maybe 30 minutes.
The story - I never knew WHEN I was, which felt disorienting and jolting whenever the story shifted gears to wherever it decided to go next. Unlike biopics that came before it, Rocketman never gives you a place to land, jumping between decades without so much as a newspaper article to orient the viewer. Not only that, but as a story that is neither 100% truth nor 100% fantasy, it was difficult to be interested in what was going on around the central character.
John's life, which is sordid, crazy, and the kind of story that should be exciting and incredible to watch, gets lost amid the fantastical musical that takes place around him. The musical elements were occasionally more fun, and I can't help but wonder if they should have committed to a more Across the Universe with Elton John music style as opposed to attempting both sides of the fence. The elements of John's life that they decided to hit felt dropped in like a giant stop sign in what had seconds before been a bee-bopping dance number. This start/stop battle between the truth and the fantasy left me whiplashed and discontent.
Finally, when it comes to story, I found issue with the telling of what happens in John's life. As opposed to biopics who came before it, Elton John is very much alive and well, a producer for the film. He has a hand in how his story is told, and while he doesn't hold back on the debauchery (sensitive viewers be warned, there are a few more graphic scenes that are less about sex or nudity than they are about depicting the aforementioned in an attempted artistic style), his story seems one-sided.
I don't know Elton John's upbringing, and perhaps his family really was as horrible and unloving as the movie attempts to portray, but there are a few inconsistencies with the characters that make it difficult for me to sympathize or accept the presented story as fact. His mother, for instance, is shown as someone who openly is hateful to him, yet at a time of distress, is shown worrying for her son (maybe just a misdirection by Dexter Fletcher to Bryce Dallas Howard?).
More so, nothing ever seems to be John's fault. Throughout the movie, he makes decision after decision that affects his life in a negative way, but it's always because someone else is the villain. He plays victim time and time again, and if it weren't for the final scene, I would have written this movie off as a no-feather travesty that's blind to its own faults.
The direction - As I said before, there's no sense of time, which I blame on the director. More than that, while some of the interludes between time jumps are incredibly creative, they came in a way that felt confusing or disorienting until after the fact. I'm left thinking "Wow, that was clever" but in the moment, I pulled out of the story and couldn't find my footing. A true artist manages to pull off the clever without taking the viewer out of the moment.
For each clever moment, there was also a laugh-worthy moment (I'm looking at you, final piece of the "Rocketman" sequence). There's something about seeing Taron Eggerton's butt jiggle as he's rocketed off into space that just doesn't convey a serious moment for me...
The hardest part for the music, to me, was the way a song would be cut off at the wrong moment, times that were meant to be pivotal to the story ("Crocodile Rock" early on in the film, for example), but stopped my enjoyment dead at the wrong moment of the song*. They also added "Pinball Wizard" a song by The Who, without explaining any sort of significance. It wasn't until I looked after the fact that I found out John sang it for the movie Tommy, a movie I and most moviegoers won't have seen and will have no reference for (and no reference is made, as it's another time-moving montage piece).
Furthermore, the biography felt rushed. Am I to believe Elton John wrote the music to "Your Song" upon the first reading of Taupin's lyrics? No struggle? Just suddenly there?
Dexter Fletcher couldn't commit. He couldn't be consistent. I blame most of what's wrong with this movie on his inability to decide if he wanted something fantastical (the musical, all cast dancing/singing, fantasy elements) or something biographical (Elton writing the music, his life, his struggles).
2 feathers (for Bernie Taupin's portrayal and the artistic nature)
Skip Rocketman (especially if you were planning to go with your son/daughter mother/father). If you really want to see it, wait for streaming.
* A friend who doesn't know Elton John music enjoyed the movie more than her husband and I, who are familiar with his songs. For us, it felt like what we loved was being truncated, but for her, the artistic styling of the songs meant nothing other than what was happening in the scene.
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