Rocketman’s attempt to convey a convincing message about the importance of being yourself is rescued by Egerton’s arousing performance and Hollywood’s clockwork mechanism.
There’s no business like show business, and there are only a few people who can match Sir Elton John’s awareness of that. Among these people, the place of honour should be given to director Dexter Fletcher. Along with all the guys at Paramount Pictures & co. and a couple of other random people crossing the street at noon. That being said, Rocketman – John’s spiritual legacy, written and developed by John himself and his husband David Furnish, is a masterclass in show business. Anything can prove to be a success if shot in Hollywood, by Hollywood’s book, with a Hollywood-assembled crew. That’s the only thing that lets us sleep peacefully at night, the only reason why the old gatekeepers are still around.
So it doesn’t really matter if Rocketman was designed in the self-celebrating attempt to pass on some less-than-obscure message about being yourself and swimming against the tide as the all-healing recipe for a life lived with passion and wisdom. It doesn’t matter if 30% or so of the songs performed on screen are puked into the plot with no evident desire to at least fake a smooth transition from real to sung-lead life. And, guess what, it doesn’t really matter if the arcs of more or less all the characters tight-rope on the no-return verge of epiphanic 360° turn-arounds as act three approaches and we, emotion-charged audiences, wait for doomsday machine to be activated under the fatherly crooked smile of Peter Sellers’s Strangelove. It doesn’t matter. Or, to phrase it more accurately: it doesn’t matter anymore. Hollywood’s waste disposal system (trademark needed) is straining his muscles to make every otherwise intolerable imperfection seem just like the remote shadow of a fly on a cocaine-white beach. Hollywood movies get us high, high as kites.
As a result, it’s not a long time before we plunge heart and soul into the Luhrmannesque carnival of nocturnal animals and Carioca orgies of visual pleasure and become ready to give anything, anything at all to let the show go on, and on, and on. What Rocketman really feels like is a music video, one that is so narratively perfect and fine-tuned to the soundtrack that we wet our eyes with thankfulness every time we trip over an old school cut flashing time forward better than a time machine – which happens an awful lot. We feel aroused by Taron Egerton’s androgynous nonchalance in playing the Queen of stage par excellence, but also by his clap-worthy singing rearrangements of John’s songs. Egerton shines with the wobbly humanity of a true wide-eyed wonderer, and his performance is probably the engine that brings Rocketman so far in spite of the poor overall message that it was drafted to convey.
In fact, nothing comes to us as a surprise. No event is unlikely: the plot follows the well-tested rising-while-falling climactic line of a young and troubled rockstar’s Bildungsroman. In search of love and everlasting success, Elton the child has to learn what it takes to hit the charts; Elton the young man how to survive his addiction to the dummy world of sex and drugs; and Elton the grown man that the only answer to all those questions lies buried at the bottom of his heart. It’s pretty clear he’s the unquestioned hero of our story, and our hearts beat in unison every time he strikes a chord on the piano – which, again, happens an awful lot.
Deep down we know that all there is to Rocketman is a superbly assembled collage of the gloriously photographed best & worst moments of a hero by birth. Deeper down, we know that the whole film thing was a setup for something that nobody really wanted to shoot – and that stands out in its impersonal directing. But then we swim back up to the surface, and wonder how the hell we spent two of the most enjoyable hours of our life wiping tears off our cheeks and watching a slightly blipping screen. Oh yes, my dears. We really are candles in the wind, after all. We always know which blockbuster to cling to when the rain sets in outside.
Rocketman is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital.