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Rocketman is a film that hits you like a ton of bricks… Yellow road-building ones, naturally 

Rocketman                                                                                                   Cert: 15, 2hrs 

Rating:

Forget the glitz and glamour of its world premiere in Cannes, forget Elton John posing for photographers at the London premiere last week. When you finally sit down in a half-empty cinema to watch Rocketman yourself – maybe tired, maybe after a difficult day at work – there’s one thing you’re definitely going to need to know. 

My goodness, it’s full-on.

From the first moment we see the man himself – superbly played by Taron Egerton – stomping down the corridor at an American detox centre in a glittery orange stage outfit that comes complete with horns, wings and towering platform boots, to the first flashback when the eight-year-old Reg Dwight launches into a chorus of The Bitch Is Back, this is a film that hits you like a ton of bricks. 

Yellow road-building ones, naturally.

My goodness, it’s full-on. From the first moment we see the man himself – superbly played by Taron Egerton (above) – stomping down the corridor at an American detox centre

My goodness, it’s full-on. From the first moment we see the man himself – superbly played by Taron Egerton (above) – stomping down the corridor at an American detox centre

It’s loud, hyper-energetic and relentless – director Dexter Fletcher, the man who rescued Bohemian Rhapsody and did such a brilliant job with Sunshine On Leith, has clearly gone all-out. 

The result is extraordinary – a musical biopic with the pathos of Billy Elliot, the operatic ambitions of Tommy and stylistic echoes of both Mamma Mia! and Sunshine On Leith

Not surprisingly, it – and particularly its Mamma Mia!-like habit of characters breaking into song at the drop of a hat –takes a bit of getting used to.

The result is extraordinary – a musical biopic with the pathos of Billy Elliot , the operatic ambitions of Tommy and stylistic echoes of both Mamma Mia! and Sunshine On Leith

The result is extraordinary – a musical biopic with the pathos of Billy Elliot , the operatic ambitions of Tommy and stylistic echoes of both Mamma Mia! and Sunshine On Leith

I got there in the end, although the gushing end-credits captions – essentially telling us what a good thing Elton John still is – do spoil the fun a little, reminding us more than is necessary that this is essentially an inside job, with John himself serving as executive producer while his husband, David Furnish, produces. 

So, as Philip Norman explained in last week’s Event, I don’t think we can take Rocketman as gospel truth, more a musical fantasy ‘inspired’ by true events.

Even for those who aren’t the biggest fans of John’s music, there’s lots to enjoy here, in a story that runs from his difficult childhood in the mid-Fifties to his battles with a variety of addictions (alcohol, cocaine, sex, shopping) in the early Nineties. 

Egerton, helped by a remarkable resemblance to the man, is terrific, while Jamie Bell gives one of his best performances as Bernie Taupin, John’s calmer, saner songwriting partner.

Lee Hall, who wrote the screenplay for Billy Elliot (John wrote the music for the stage version), writes the screenplay here, underlining the clear parallels that John sees between his childhood and that of the aspiring ballet dancer.

‘When are you going to hug me?’ the eight-year-old Reg asks his cold, remote father, who won’t let his son touch his jazz records and doesn’t like him looking at magazine fashion pages. ‘Don’t be soft,’ comes the heartless reply.

IT’S A FACT 

Elton’s chosen middle name, Hercules, is not a tribute to the Roman god, but is in honour of the cart-dragging nag in Steptoe And Son.

For the record, Elton’s mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) is cast in only a modestly more sympathetic light, leaving the more positive aspects of his childhood – the discovery he had perfect pitch, the piano lessons at the Royal Academy of Music – very much in the domain of his adoring grandmother, Ivy (Gemma Jones).

There’s a brief glimpse of John’s beloved Watford FC, but once his childhood home of Pinner and the early song-writing years with Taupin are left behind, this is very much the American story of his rise to success, a version of events where the Troubadour club in Los Angeles features larger than early appearances on Top Of The Pops.

Bodyguard’s Richard Madden does his best with the difficult role of John Reid – John’s lover for five years and his Svengali-like manager – and valiantly essays a duet of Honky Cat with Egerton that brings to mind Pierce Brosnan’s brave warblings in Mamma Mia! 

But overall, Rocketman, despite lingering overlong on the substance abuse and attendant demons, is a big success. Julian Day’s costumes are surely nomination-grabbingly good, while Fletcher – who worked with Egerton on Eddie The Eagle – brilliantly adds to his growing reputation as one of the best makers around of popular British films.

Two magical moments in particular stay with me: John’s breakthrough concert in the Troubadour, when both singer and audience surreally levitate, as his life is changed for ever ‘in the space of ten bars’; and a quieter scene back home in Pinner when the tune of Your Song seems to pour instantly from his fingers. 

Saturday night may still be all right for fighting, but you’ll have more fun going to see this.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

Aladdin (PG)

Rating:

Disney’s lucrative new line of business, turning its much-loved cartoons into live-action films, continues with this remake, starring a larger-than-life Will Smith as the blue-skinned genie (Robin Williams in the 1992 original).

Improbably but perfectly effectively directed by Guy Ritchie, this is very much a production for these more inclusive times, with ethnically appropriate casting and a rejigged storyline to give poor Princess Jasmine a more empowered role.

The Egyptian-born Mena Massoud (pictured above with a larger-than-life Will Smith as the blue-skinned genie) makes a convincing Aladdin

The Egyptian-born Mena Massoud (pictured above with a larger-than-life Will Smith as the blue-skinned genie) makes a convincing Aladdin

Some will quibble with Smith’s performance, which is loud, modern and sporadically blighted by the fact that he spends much of the time as a digitally created visual effect, which allows him to change size and float around but does hinder his interaction with other actors.

Nevertheless, I liked it – once I’d remembered it was a musical and realised that Smith would actually be singing as well as dispensing wishes. The Egyptian-born Mena Massoud makes a convincing Aladdin, the British-born Naomi Scott is photogenic and tuneful as Jasmine, and Ritchie delivers the big musical numbers with surprising aplomb.

 

Booksmart (15)

Rating:

Remember Eighth Grade, the extremely good comedy-drama about a 13-year-old girl negotiating the difficult transition from American middle school to high school? Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut feels like a companion piece, as it focuses on Molly and Amy, two hard-working and high-achieving friends who are about to graduate from high school and are looking forward to college.

The problem is that they’ve been working so hard to get there, they’ve forgotten to have a life. So on the night before graduation they cram everything they’ve missed out on into one big last night.

It does take a while to find its feet, and for Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever to convince as friends, but it’s a funny, touching and slightly strange delight.

 

The Secret Life Of Pets 2 (U)

Rating:

The animation is fabulous, the star-studded voice cast full of potential but the storyline is clumsily constructed. Max, the previously rescued and anxious terrier now voiced by Patton Oswalt, lives in one Manhattan apartment while Snowball, a rabbit voiced by Kevin Hart, lives below. 

All three dogs have parallel adventures, an unhappy tiger is rescued from the circus, and Harrison Ford gives voice to a grumpy farm dog

All three dogs have parallel adventures, an unhappy tiger is rescued from the circus, and Harrison Ford gives voice to a grumpy farm dog

Gidget (Jenny Slate), a small white dog, lives in the block too. All three have parallel adventures, an unhappy tiger is rescued from the circus, and Harrison Ford gives voice to a grumpy farm dog. 

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