REVIEW: There’s a scene in the Oscar winning shit heap Bohemian Rhapsody, where Freddie Mercury, surrounded by willing male partners, wanders out into the rain crying over his terrible life.
He’s alone, estranged from the people who really love him – his conservative family, his straight friends and his ex wife – by his … icky … sexuality.
If only being gay wasn’t so bloody depressing, evil and wrong, the film seems to say. If only Freddie hadn’t been burdened with this curse of wanting to have sex with men and getting to have sex with men. Wahhhhh
Compare that to Rocketman, the gorgeous, glorious, feather helmed, sequin bedazzled, cinematic musical riot about the life of Elton John.
Actually, don’t. They can’t compare. One is a joyful, emotionally rewarding, Oscar-worthy masterpiece that pushes story telling boundaries and gives the audience a whole new perspective on a beloved public figure, and the other is Bohemian bloody Rhapsody.
Playing with time and place in a very stagey, yet not stilted, way and using very specific Bernie Taupin/ Elton John songs illustrate and give voice to it, Rocketman is a dreamy fantasy of John’s life.
But it feels all the more real for that because it’s simply a more engaging film than most biopics. Spirited, succulent, evocative, painfully and wonderfully honest, it’s never mired in chronology, or diary-entry reality.
In stead it opens with John (Taron Egerton, clearly loving life), decked in a bright orange, bedazzled costume storming rehab like a demon, and unfolds from there in all-singing, all-dancing flashbacks. They detail John’s youthful quest for stardom (and love), followed swiftly and messily by his post-fame quest for sobriety (and love), and finally his acceptance (and love) of himself in all his messed up glory.
Like any good musical, the whole cast sings, but it’s really a showcase for the multi-talented Egerton, who grabs hold of the role – seemingly with all 52 of his teeth, both arms and his legs too – and squeezes the life right into it.
Jaime Bell as Taupin, his brother from another mother, is a necessary calming influence on both the film and John, and is similarly excellent to boot.
And all along there are the songs, which you might have thought of as naff, thanks purely to over familiarity. But they’re given new life and new context, here, as well as pathos and meaning they might have lacked before. You’ll never hear Rocketman the song the same again, believe me.
It could easily have gone the same way as BH, pinning the responsibility for all John’s ills and vices on his dick liking other dicks. Instead it points the finger in exactly the right direction: toxic masculinity, prejudice, and selfish, negligent parenting.
Then it has the grace to forgive and move past those things, like grown ups should, to embrace a happier, freer future. In Rocketman, that’s a future where living his homosexuality proudly and loudly is the reward for facing his issues like a man and growing the hell up.
Christ, that’s refreshing.
In short, this film is a sequin dotted, spandex clad, feathered, bejeweled, platform soled masterpiece of joy, love and triumph. And if you don’t like it I’m sure John won’t mind me borrowing one of his shorter speeches in the film to tell you what you can do with your opinion: “Fuck off!”