Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Heartfelt and authentic Elton John biopic "Rocketman" soars in ways "Bohemian Rhapsody" disappointed

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman
I caught the new feature film Rocketman at the opening night of Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival last week and loved it.

As Elton John, actor Taron Egerton (previously most famous for the Kingsman spy thrillers) delivers the best performance I've ever seen him give, embodying the musical icon with such heart and authenticity, he rivals Rami Malek's performance as Freddie Mercury in 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody.  In fact, Egerton does his own amazing singing, which gives him one up on Malek (who lip synced), if you ask me.  Egerton is the best thing about this entertaining flick.

I quite agree with this Daily Beast piece: "Rocketman lends a dignity to John’s feelings about his sexuality where Rhapsody disgraces and even demonizes Mercury’s struggle. And while Rhapsody manipulated facts of Mercury’s sexuality and AIDS diagnosis to manufacture an emotional climax in the Live Aid finale, there’s no such bastardizing in Rocketman."

There are an awful lot of tears, but even more laughs in this flick as the emotional struggles of addiction take their toll on Elton John's life.  Most in the audience, straight or queer, will relate on some level.  You can do justice to a superstar's life without making stuff up, plus structure a good film and entertain an audience all at the same time, who would've thought?

Rocketman's strengths put the flaws of Bohemian Rhapsody into clearer focus for me.

I did enjoy much of Bohemian Rhapsody, please don't get me wrong.  Malek was brilliant, the scenes of Queen producing their music in studio were cool, and the final concert scene at Live Aid was rapturous.  (Rocketman's scenes depicting Elton John's spontaneous writing, especially crafting "Your Song" at the piano, also hit such awesomeness.)

But I quietly resented all the praise some straight people gave Bohemian Rhapsody because it was obvious many didn't really notice or even question how that film "treated (Mercury's) sexuality as a predatory gateway drug to a destructive lifestyle."  I had hoped to learn something awesome about Mercury we didn't already know - but instead it was just a story about how a sad and selfish gay man turns his back on his straight Queen band members and collapses into disaster and contracts AIDS because of it.  I also didn't appreciate the dozens of minutes spent watching Mercury flirt with his first wife in the first hour of the film, while the love of his life, the man who stood by him during his final years struggling with AIDS, was reduced to a final act footnote.  It was insulting. 

After experiencing that disappointment, Rocketman is such a satisfying experience. 

I'll be very curious if all the Queen fans who heaped such praise on Bohemian Rhapsody do the same thing for what I consider at least as good a film in Rocketman.  Many will.  All of them should.

It opens in theatres this weekend.  Please check it out. 

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