Movie Review: ‘Rocketman’ Breathes Fantastical New Life Into Rock Star Biopics

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: R for Fabulous Rock Star Indulgences

Release Date: May 31, 2019

Have you ever felt so exhilarated by a movie that you thought, “I never knew it was possible to get this high?” Presumably you have, as you care enough about cinema to read reviews by film buffs who are just as passionate as you are.  But you also, like me, might be worried that you will never experience this feeling again. When it comes, it’s often inspired by a really rousing song-and-dance number, and it seems like those are in short supply these days. Too many music biopics are satisfied with just touching on the nuts and bolts of rock stardom. But I don’t think that’s because they don’t want to capture the spirit of their subjects. It requires a tricky sort of alchemy to make a music movie that really sings, but somehow through the magic combination of Elton John’s discography, Taron Egerton’s cheeky and gleeful and tormented performance, and Dexter Fletcher’s go-for-broke direction, Rocketman has found the right formula.

It helps a great deal that it’s an actual musical. Biopics are often categorized by awards groups as musicals, but that’s often a misnomer, because the performance scenes are generally just that: performances. But in Rocketman, they are instead excuses for flights of fancy. As Egerton adroitly digs into the former Reginald Dwight’s oeuvre, he is buoyed along by sudden losses of gravity, stages that turn into whirlwinds, impromptu interpretive dances, and a general sense that anything could happen. This film is also a tale of triumphing over addiction, as it is framed around a group therapy session in which John recounts how he got to this crazy point in his life. You get the sense that while living alongside parents who never quite understood him, a manager who took advantage of him, and at least one loyal friend and partner who stuck beside him for decades, a corresponding world of chaos and ebullience was constantly bouncing around in his head. Rocketman has captured that part of his psyche marvelously, and it is now a decadent treat for the whole world to feast upon.

Rocketman is Recommended If You Like: The Elton John Songbook, All That Jazz

Grade: 4 out of 5 Feathered Outfits

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a Thoroughly Generic Music Biopic

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CREDIT: Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

Director: Bryan Singer*

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Typical, Though Far From the Most Decadent, Rock Star Lifestyle

Release Date: November 2, 2018

About halfway through Bohemian Rhapsody, Mike Myers shows up as a record executive, and I am not sure if this casting was a good or bad idea. He’s got messy curls and patchwork facial hair that makes him look Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkel in the “More cowbell” sketch. He is adamant against Queen releasing the film’s namesake song as a single, certain that its nonsense lyrics and operatic structure will prevent it from ever being something that teenagers will bang their heads along to in the car (thus cheekily referencing the song’s most famous cinematic appearance). This scene is much more directly comedic than the rest of the film, offering an oddball flavor that could easily result in a tonal clash. The trouble is, the tone for just about every other scene can be summed up as “flavorless.” Myers’ committed character work might not truly belong, but it’s too hard to tell, because Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the most generic music biopics ever made.

On the one hand, there are plenty of cookie-cutter entries in this genre, but if anything could break the mold, one would think the story of Queen as directed by Bryan Singer and starring Rami Malek as one of the most electric rock stars of all time would have been a prime candidate. The problem might be with Singer himself, or his lack thereof. The X-Men and Usual Suspects director was failing to show up to set during production (some reports say it was due to a family health matter, while others noted that he was clashing with Malek), and he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher towards the end of principal photography (although per Directors Guild ruling, Singer retains sole directorial credit). The resulting product has an appropriately nameless visual aesthetic, with inexplicable shots of concert footage that rob the band of its dynamism. A few moments show off Singer’s signature kinetic flair (like the marathon recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody”), but overall this one has a real Alan Smithee feel to it.

If you love Queen, you can at least derive some enjoyment out of how thoroughly Malek conjures Freddie Mercury. And with a discography as eclectic and bombastic as Queen’s, it is impossible to not find at least a little positivity out of two hours jam-packed with their songs. But that deep musical lineup only underscores how much of a wasted opportunity Bohemian Rhapsody is.

Bohemian Rhapsody is Recommended If You Like: The Queen songbook

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Galileo’s

*-Bryan Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher towards the end of principal photography, but Singer has retained sole directorial credit, in accordance with Directors Guild of America rules.