I don't want to spend this review comparing Rocketman to last year's abysmal Queen bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody because Rocketman, a far superior film in every which way, deserves better than that. (Just like poor Freddie deserved better than the film he got.) Yet it was hard not to watch the film through that lens, given not just the fact that its director Dexter Fletcher worked on Rhapsody after Bryan Singer had his mid-production collapse but also that when I sat down to watch Rocketman there were rumors the studio wanted to water down "the gay stuff" in order to, I don't know, not alienate assholes I guess.
Rocketman proves what a difference having the right gay voice in the room makes. Bohemian Rhapsody probably never stood a chance, since its "right gay voice" was dead and couldn't speak for himself and his band-mates agendas were their own. But Rocketman clearly benefitted well from having Elton John around -- it is truly as gay as all get out.
I don't just mean the kissing and the humping and the gratuitous moments galore. I mean the moments like when you go to a party with your straight friends and you end up watching them pair off and you end up being the lone 'mo wall-flowering it up beside the punchbowl. Those moments when your dad glared at you with befuddlement, incapable of even having a conversation. Rocketman is rich with them -- I felt it time and again deep in my old gay bones.
But it's also a joyful experience -- it might be framed against Elton's battles with drink and drug and, uhh, literally everything on the planet, but unlike Rhapsody, which trod the same ground and made Freddie Mercury's life look like a foul stench, a thing stuck to a shoe, Rocketman goes out of its way to have Elton say that yes, he did it all, but he loved every minute of it. He sang high and long and wild, and it was beautiful goddamnit.
It's impossible to take your eyes off of Taron Egerton the second he shows up -- the two younger boys who play younger Elton are also stellar -- and Taron rip-roars through the film, an effortless Elton, on stage and off. There's a clear and precise and yes probably mainstreamed vision of Elton's battles with bridging the him he was and the him he was meant to be -- it's messier than the paint-by-numbers approach of Rhapsody but still of a mold; it just thankfully spills its edges now and again.
It truly feels like a celebration of a real person who led a great big life, and gifted us with a catalogue of gorgeous music that's touched us all. And the way it feeds the music into the story, and not the other way around, makes for an entirely more captivating experience than just a tennis match back-and-forth between "not singing scene" and "song scene." It shuffles, shimmies, sparkles, like it should. Elton's life is his music, his music is his life, and Rocketman sings us his song. And it's beautiful, goddamnit.