Starring Taron Egerton. Rated PG
Is the resemblance between this Elton John biopic and a certainly Mercurial effort from last year strictly coincidental?
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who took on Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired, Rocketman is another dive into the shallow end of late-’60s Brit-rock.
Both movies look at singers who struggled with their sexuality and their pop sensibilities in a milieu that prized authenticity.
Both feature big production numbers, dubious chronology, old-school montages depicting the glitzy rise to worldwide fame, and second-half dreariness in the long slide towards drugs and anonymous sex.
If John’s principle tormentor, manager John Reid (The Bodyguard’s David Madden), seems familiar, he’s actually the same guy who preyed on Freddie in the other flick.
And the movies share a moralistically bifurcated ’tude towards gayness itself, distinguishing between the wholesome kind with a solid partner and all that other, more questionable stuff.
What the new one has is deluxe choreography and the freedom that comes from jumbling songs into multiple time frames, plus an energetic performance from Taron Egerton.
He’s round-faced and balding as Elton, with no Mr. Potatohead nose, but does a good job singing arrangements that diverge radically from the over-exposed originals.
The early stuff is emphasized, mixing piano genius Reginald Dwight’s stunted suburban childhood with his arrival as a nimble songwriter, upon meeting lyricist Bernie Taupin, played by Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell.
That film’s screenwriter, Lee Hall, here gets to revisit a remote, homophobic father (Stephen Mackintosh), now complimented by a ditzy, self-absorbed mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a protective granny (Gemma Jones).
These figures haunt the singer—never seen interacting with another musician or a clothing stylist—in the too-literal rehab sessions that provide backstory.
The humble-bragging subject helped produce this lavish musical memoir. So why does it fudge basic things like the origins of his stage name?
Real Reg played countless gigs with the band Bluesology, and was smitten by both saxophonist Elton Dean and leader Long John Baldry, one of the few openly gay performers of that era.
The movie keeps Dean but imagines a snap decision on the John, based on one glance at a Beatles photo.
Here he is, all these years later, still trying to play with the big boys.