Cannes reviews mostly lukewarm on Elton John 'bio-musical fantasy' Rocketman
See what critics are saying about Taron Egerton's Elton John biopic
Rocketman has touched down at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Dexter Fletcher-directed Elton John biopic — starring Taron Egerton as the iconic musician — made its world premiere Thursday, debuting at the annual cinema event in a prestigious slot outside the festival’s main competition. Following its first screening, the film — and Egerton — received a standing ovation, but critics’ reviews were more divided regarding Egerton’s performance and the film itself.
“Taron Egerton gamely does a middleweight impersonation, more comfortable with the lighter side: better at the tiaras than the tantrums,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian. Eric Kohn of IndieWire likewise called Egerton’s performance “a sufficient impersonation” that “occasionally veers into a goofy caricature,” while Variety’s Peter Debruge said the actor was “casually adorable.”
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, for one, was more enthusiastic: “Not only does Egerton have Elton’s look and mannerisms down to an uncanny degree, he also musters up enough of his subject’s signature showmanship to give a performance that’s joyously at peace with its own preposterousness,” he wrote.
Most critics agreed, however, that the film — which opts for a more fantastical style as opposed to a straightforward biopic rhythm — presents a fairly shallow view of John’s life and career. The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney praised Egerton’s “fully committed performance,” while noting Rocketman “almost invariably chooses a big stylized showpiece over a moment of intimate revelation.”
Coming on the heels of the Oscar-winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody — which Fletcher took over directing after Bryan Singer’s firing — Rocketman charts John’s life from his formative years as an aspiring musician through his early collaborations with lyricist Bernie Taupin (“Candle in the Wind,” “Bennie and the Jets”).
In addition to undergoing a physical transformation to play John, Egerton lent his real voice to the film’s musical interpretations of his work. The actor previously told EW that slipping into costume designer Julian Day’s elaborate creations helped him get into character, as the looks functioned as a “suit of armor, making yourself feel capable.”
Rocketman enters theatrical orbit May 31. Ahead of the film’s release, check out more of the first critical reviews from the 2019 Cannes Film Festival below.
David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter):
“The title of Rocketman is appropriate in that this boldly unconventional portrait of Elton John — charting the parallel tracks of his meteoric rise to superstardom and his simultaneous descent into an abyss of loneliness and addiction — has a spectacular launch, all engines blazing. It’s mid-flight that narrative shortcomings start to kick in, with a succession of surreally stylized musical fantasy sequences that are fabulously entertaining but too seldom allow for the kind of substantial dramatic connective tissue that would invite real emotional involvement with the protagonist. It’s largely to the credit of star Taron Egerton, who leans fearlessly into the role’s wild excesses, that the movie remains airborne.”
Eric Kohn (IndieWire):
“Rather than revealing much about the man behind the music, Rocketman seems more content to hover inside of it, exploring his unique synthesis of blues, rock, and every other relevant genre as a natural extension of his personality. No surprise here: Director Dexter Fletcher layers on the molten cheese with this colorful assemblage of 20 John songs built around key moments in his life, presenting the template for a blockbuster Broadway musical in music-video form. There’s nothing shocking or bold about the way Rocketman consolidates the many chapters of John’s life into an elaborate combination of melodramatic conflict and exuberant numbers, but generations of fans would expect nothing less. Rocketman aims to please.”
Peter Debruge (Variety):
“Rocketman seems mostly preoccupied with the surface idea of Elton: the outrageous wardrobe, the spectacular showmanship, and his relatively unusual status as an openly gay megastar….This carefully vetted, fully authorized biography wants to be seen as a warts-and-all portrait. Though the film makes jokes about Elton’s sausage fingers and thinning hair — further cues that Rocketman isn’t meant to be seen as a vanity project — Egerton effectively plays him as that rarest of movie archetypes: a gay sex symbol. As such, can its much-touted love scene truly be considered gratuitous when an entire community has been so underrepresented in the arena of studio-sanctioned snogging?”
Geoffrey Macnab (The Independent):
“At times, Rocketman risks turning into a chronicle of woe. Much of the film focuses on the years when Elton was abusing alcohol and drugs. He was miserable in his own life and took out his unhappiness on those closest to him. This doesn’t make him very good company. His behaviour is brattish and self-indulgent. It can become tiresome to hear him say yet again how much he hates himself. However, Fletcher films even the darkest scenes in a very flamboyant fashion and manages to leaven matters with some ironic humor.”
Steve Pond (The Wrap):
“This is a jukebox musical for the big screen, Mamma Mia! forced into a vaguely biographical form or one of the Broadway shows that use an artist’s music to tell their story, among them Jersey Boys and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. But it’s about Elton John, so that means it’s bigger, wilder, more extravagant and more excessive than those works. Sometimes that means it’s more fun, too, but it can also be a melodramatic slog when it’s not embracing the craziness of its musical numbers. And some of those numbers, to be honest, are far more diverting than others.”
Tim Grierson (Screen Daily):
“A rock star origin story that flaunts its hero’s superpowers as if he were the newest member of the Avengers, Rocketman is shameless in its ambitions to crown Elton John as one of music’s greatest artists, most fascinating figures and saddest souls. Taron Egerton gives everything to his portrayal of the man born Reginald Dwight, including singing the pop titan’s many indelible hits, and director Dexter Fletcher pulls out all the stops for a biopic that boldly tries to reimagine Elton classics as elaborate musical numbers that reveal clues to his psyche. Clearly taking a page from Elton’s lavish costumes, Rocketman does nothing in half measures, but the overkill, and the narrative predictability, eventually just becomes overwhelming.”
Robbie Collin (The Telegraph):
“Dexter Fletcher’s fabulous Elton John musical is a heart-racing, toe-tapping, all-glitter-cannons-blazing triumph on its own terms – but because of its subject matter and crowd-pleasing approach, the early reviews will almost certainly compare it to Bryan Singer’s Freddie Mercury wiki-biopic….Well, allow me to reassure you there is no comparison. Putting the two side by side would be like conducting a taste test between a porterhouse steak smothered in tomato ketchup and a smouldering old shoe someone pulled off a bonfire. After the self-effacing salvage job, Fletcher has stormed back with the real, electrifying deal.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian):
“Rocketman is a sucrose-enriched biopic-slash-jukebox-musical hybrid which sometimes feels like it should be on the Broadway or London West End stage – and very possibly will….Lee Hall’s dialogue, robust enough, is often a bit on the nose, making sure we know what we’re supposed to be thinking and feeling. It’s a bit by-the-numbers – but again, it could well sound better on stage. What the movie made an honest job of, was conveying the meaning of the song itself: the rocket pilot who is afraid and lonely and for whom the apparently mind-blowing business of space travel is all in a day’s work. Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton John’s music and his public image. But the man itself eluded it.”