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REVIEW | 'Minister of Culture' Michael Heaton says 'Rocketman' paints epic portrait of Elton John

"Writer Lee Hall has couched the story in a kind of Broadway musical fever-dream that propels the narrative forward at a timely clip."
Credit: Paramount Pictures
  • What: Rocketman
  • Who: Directed by Dexter Fletcher; stars Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Tate Donovan, and Steven Mackintosh
  • Rated: R
  • Running time: 121 minutes
  • When: Opens Friday, May 31
  • Where: Area theaters
  • Grade: B

"Too on the nose" is a term used among screenwriters to indicate a scene or some dialogue in a movie is excessively obvious. That phrase came to mind a lot while watching the Elton John biopic Rocketman.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t wildly entertaining. The non-linear script tells the story of the former Reginald Dwight’s rise from obscurity to the heights of rock and roll fame, his flame-out, and later resurrection.

While the plot follows the standard "Behind the Music" style fairly closely, writer Lee Hall has couched the story in a kind of Broadway musical fever-dream that propels the narrative forward at a timely clip.

The song and dance numbers function as transition pieces that match John’s penchant for over-the-top theatricality and crazy costumes.

We first me little Reginald growing up in England in the 1950's, the product of a loveless marriage that is destine to fail. His mother, played brilliantly by Bryce Dallas Howard, soon discovers her son is a musical savant with the ability to play any piece of music on the piano after he hears it just once. This leads to his scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music.

As an older teen, now played by Taron Egerton, the newly self-proclaimed Elton John meets lyricist Bernie Taupin, played Jamie Bell. The two hit it off, both personally and artistically. The songs begin to pour out of them in a torrent of creative output. 

A U.S. tour that begins with explosive success at the famed Troubador club in Los Angeles leads to a record deal. Thus, John’s career begins rocketing to unparalleled music and show biz success with one hit record album after another.

In John’s case, the road of excess did not initially lead to the palace of wisdom. It lead eventually to the hospital emergency room and then to rehab. 

There are obvious parallels between this story and Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen. They are both about rock and roll success and excess, but the two movies go about their business in very different ways. In my view Bohemian Rhapsody is the more nuanced, intelligent, and satisfying of the two films. Then again, there’s no accounting for taste.

Egerton’s singing is a fantastic approximation of Elton John’s vocals, but I didn’t connect with his portrayal of Elton John the man as much as I would have liked too.

Whether or not Rocketman is too much on the nose for you, there is no denying that the Elton John story is one epic proboscis of a picture.