Gus Writes: “Rocketman”!

Gotta love when Gus Russo takes the lead here at AFan – herewith, his excellent review of Rocketman!

With Rocketman, director Dexter Fletcher is the now the official king of the pop music biopic. Right on the heels of his exhilarating Bohemian Rhapsody, Fletcher tackles another iconic pop sensation, Sir Elton John, albeit with a different approach. Instead of a movie with song performances, Fletcher does the Jersey Boys thing with Elton’s extravagant life story. And it was a brilliant choice because it’s quite possible that Sir
Elton imagines his larger-than-life songs as part of his own unending, madhouse Broadway musical. The costume designer must have had a blast.

Biopics have their fair share of haters—you know, the critics who point out all the bits
that weren’t included, or the fictionalizing of scenes. Of course, those poor souls miss the
whole point of the genre, and therefore, much of the joy of experiencing brilliantly
crafted songs in a crystal clear, 30,000-watt environment (PLEASE see this in a theater,
and not on your iPad). When 100 percent of the screening audience is enthralled,
reviewers have a duty to let their readers know it. That was certainly the case at the
showing I just attended. They understood that it all stems from the glorious music: from
the source of young Elton’s salvation, to his mid-life downfall, to his ultimate Phoenix-
like re-emergence. More than once I was reminded of Brian Wilson’s similar tale, as
depicted in the stellar Love and Mercy.

The Rocketman team recreated the music wonderfully, while they somehow managed
to convey the emotional core of all the many stages of John’s huge life. Individual
standouts are the star Taron Egerton, who impresses even more than Rami Malek, who
actually did a fine job in “Rhapsody.” I especially enjoyed Kit Conner as the teen Elton,
and Jamie Bell as the brilliant lyricist Bernie Taupin, who has had arguably the most
perfectly successful, and enviable, career in pop music: all the riches, none of the
madness. The only casting choice that raised my eyebrows was Bryce Dallas Howard as
Elton’s mom. When the two reunite in the third act, Elton’s mom looks younger than her
son. Sort of takes you out of the scene.

Small touches weren’t overlooked. The Troubadour club in LA looks exactly as I
remember it, grit and all, from my half-dozen or so pilgrimages there. And why has a
filmmaker never before thought of the brilliant idea of having the enraptured Troub
audience floating on air. We’ve all experienced it emotionally, but to see it actually
happen physically had me smiling ear to ear. And I love the nod to Mama Cass’s
legendary parties. Known as the “Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon,” Baltimore’s own
Cass Elliott was a musical matchmaker (e.g. introducing Crosby and Stills to Nash at one
of her hipster soirees.)

Bottom line: I’ll see this movie again, and very soon.

Gus is an author, musician, documentarian, and gifted flat tire repairman.

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