Life in extravagantly choreographed musical numbers | Daily News


 

Rocketman

Life in extravagantly choreographed musical numbers

“Rocketman,” is a biopic about the life and music of Elton John. We open with Taron Egerton’s Elton, attired in horned-demon garb, striding into rehab group therapy, where he declares himself to be an alcoholic, cocaine addict, sex addict, bulimic, shopaholic and more. From here, we flash back to key moments in Elton’s life, played out as extravagantly choreographed musical numbers.

The movie actually begins at a moment of crucial emotion and flux in the singer’s life, then backtracks to show us how he ended up there. It is the story of the shy boy who became a big star. Packed with toe-tapping sing-alongs you’ve known and loved for decades. Songs spring from significant moments in John’s life. The movie also depicts how John’s hits rise up the charts and rack up gold records; the concerts, headlines and adoring fans; the shopping sprees to spend his insane riches; the trying-on of various ornate hats, glasses and spangled get-ups; and all the sex and drugs that go along with the rock ‘n’ roll.

Elton John himself is very much alive and a part of the production, serving as an executive producer on the film and an adviser to Taron Egerton, the young actor who plays him with great gusto. Thus the ironical story of the young boy who yearns to be accepted is finely portrayed. Even moments of John’s selfish and self-destructive behavior eventually are fodder for a greater redemption tale.

Egerton gives a performance with such thrills and vulnerability, such charisma and pathos, that it’s hard not to be wowed. Previously best known for his starring role in the action-comedy “Kingsman” movies, Egerton truly gives it his all – you can see the effort on display here in what was clearly a physically and emotionally arduous role. That includes doing all his own singing, although he doesn’t look or sound exactly like John, and that’s probably preferable to doing a straight-up impression. He gets the vibe right and he has a genuine, appealing screen presence.

And at times, it is. Director Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall frequently arrange and stage the musical numbers in such inventive ways, they achieve a new level of meaning in the lyrics and almost make you feel as if you’re hearing them for the first time. And that’s tough, given that John’s songs have been standards on the radio, in movies and in tourist-trap, sing-along piano bars since the 1970s. This is especially true of “Rocket Man,” which flows so beautifully and covers such substantial ground, it’s like a mini-movie unto itself. The quiet and intimacy of seeing John find his way through “Your Song” at a piano in the living room is also surprisingly effective. And in an especially inspired move, John’s longtime collaborator and close friend, songwriter Bernie Taupin played by Jamie Bell, performs “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” at a breaking point between the two men.

When we first see John, he’s storming into a rehab meeting in full regalia, a whirlwind of feathers and crystals, fresh from the stage he does not want to be there. But while he has your attention, he may as well tell you a little story. Cut to John’s youth (when he was still Reginald Dwight), a piano prodigy with a judgmental, emotionally withholding father (Steven Mackintosh) and a distant, promiscuous mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). “Rocketman” suggests that John’s creative life has been an elaborate attempt to gain his parents’ love and approval, and that his substance abuse has been a method of numbing the pain of their rejection. However the movie lovers will embrace “Rocketman” as a superior film.

 


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