Tag: dexter fletcher

Rocketman


Rocketman (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Maybe I should’ve tried to be more ordinary.”

In the opening sequences of Dexter Fletcher’s entertaining and surprisingly moving “Rocketman,” which focuses on Elton John’s breakthrough years, it is communicated with blinding clarity that the subject will never receive the love he deserves from his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh). And so the viewers are inspired to make an assumption: The rest of the picture will be about Elton attempting to fill that void. On the one hand, the presumption is accurate. There is an abundance of rock-and-roll, sex, booze, and drugs. On the other hand, the film is able to overcome the expected trappings of a musical biopic because it is willing to embrace a more introspective approach—even if it means applying the breaks on its forward momentum. It dares to take risks—sometimes unnecessary risks. And that’s rock ’n’ roll.

It is an interesting way to tell a story, particularly when real-life events merge—at times quite suddenly—into imaginings and longings. The approach is never the same. A song and dance number can break out at any time: in the middle of a suburban street, at a psychedelic party, while making a record, while arguing over a record, back stage before a big show, even when one’s life is on the balance. It makes the point that putting on a performance is almost like another addiction for Elton. That is why when confronted by the searing question of why he feels the need to put on ostentatious outfits during a show, he cannot provide a strong answer. A performance is expected out of him, on and off the stage. He feels the need to deliver because he does not wish to disappoint his fans—just as he is afraid to disappoint his parents who are already cold to him.

While all of Elton’s memorable songs are present, from “The Bitch is Back” and “Your Song” to “Crocodile Rock” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” notice that if these were stripped away completely, the movie would be able to stand on its own. Taron Egerton plays Elton John with such high level of vivacity, even when his character is in the dumps, that it is near impossible not to feel impressed with his all-in approach. Egerton shines most when paired with Jamie Bell, portraying Bernie Taupin, the lyricist alongside Elton’s melodies and Elton’s best friend. The love shared between Elton and Bernie is so strong and infectious, I caught myself wishing they had a movie of just hanging out, laughing, being silly, writing songs.

It does not glamorize the life of a superstar. In fact, the screenplay by Lee Hall makes a point that it can be such a cripplingly lonely profession. It is a great challenge to discern between those who only want you for your fame and money and those who genuinely care about you. Elton is able to find financial success, but he remains that child who yearns to be hugged by his father. This theme runs throughout the film and it becomes sadder every time the subject is disappointed by a person he thinks is being true. And so he snorts another line of cocaine. Followed by gulping down yet another bottle of vodka.

Unlike the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” is proud to embrace its subject’s sexuality. Instead of hiding it, or toning it down, or shaming it, as in the former picture, it is celebrated here—not by flooding the movie with characters who nod or smile approvingly but through Elton’s resiliency as a gifted artist who just so happens to be a homosexual. Here is a musical biopic with elements of fantasy that gets it exactly right.

Eddie the Eagle


Eddie the Eagle (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Dexter Fletcher’s “Eddie the Eagle,” about the first British ski-jumper who represented Great Britain during the 1988 Winter Olympics, is a feel-good biopic, certainly able to offer more than a handful enjoyable moments due to its enthusiastic lead performance, but one that is ultimately forgettable. The screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton fails to explore deeply enough into the mind and heart of the highly determined twenty-two-year-old Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) and so his failures and victories oftentimes come across superficial.

Perhaps the approach of not digging too deeply is a conscious choice. Maybe the goal is to tell Edwards’ story without the typical razzle-dazzle of ace biopics but tell it as simply and directly as possible. But an argument can be made that exactly because the story is not about winning medals but about a person who has always dreamed of becoming an Olympian, the filmmakers should have strived to make their work stand out.

Eddie is a highly relatable character because all his life just about everyone he knew at one point tried to convince him, explicitly and implicitly, to settle for a life that is ordinary. A potentially interesting character is Terry (Keith Allen), Eddie’s father, who tells his son that he should drop his dreams, learn to be practical, train to become a plasterer. We wonder why this is Terry’s attitude toward his only son but the material never answers our questions. As a result, during Terry’s change of heart at the latter end of the picture, the evolution comes across as forced and artificial. The sentimentality is cringe-worthy.

Even the story of Eddie’s coach, former ski-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), is undercooked and formulaic. The fallout between Bronson and his former coach, played by Christopher Walken, is quite uninteresting and whenever it becomes the focal point of the picture for a time, the momentum is slowed almost to a halt. Too many gaps of information are not filled in and we never quite see their entire story come together. Instead, Bronson is seen drinking a lot of alcohol to show he has become a failure. This is formulaic. There is no refreshing angle in terms of how Bronson’s past connects to his current coaching duty.

Always a joy to watch, however, is Egerton who fills the screen with overwhelming gusto. I wished he had reeled in a bit more when it comes to delivering exaggerated facial expressions—to his credit, the Olympian he is portraying does have such ticks—because there are instances when real emotions are overshadowed by such a depiction. Still, Egerton proves one scene after another that he knows how to perform and keep his character fresh even though the screenplay struggles at times to come up with novel elements to keep us thoroughly engaged.

“Eddie the Eagle” is worth seeing at least once for Egerton’s performance and the source material’s uplifting message, hence the marginal recommendation, even though there is nothing particularly memorable about the work. At one point in the film, there is a discussion about being willing to go all the way, to take necessary risks to attain a goal. Otherwise, why even bother trying. Maybe the filmmakers should have taken a bit of that advice in order to have made a stronger picture that undeniably makes its own mark.