I’ve just seen Rocketman, the Elton John biopic. It’s a hoot

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Everbody’s taking about…

Rocketman
★★★★☆
Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Gemma Jones, Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh. In competition

Cannes 2019: Taron Egerton as Elton John, Bryce Dallas Howard as his mother, and Richard Madden as John Reid in Rocketman, directed by Dexter Fletcher
Cannes 2019: Taron Egerton as Elton John, Bryce Dallas Howard as his mother, and Richard Madden as John Reid in Rocketman, directed by Dexter Fletcher

A hearty surge of affection shot around Cannes on Thursday night as Elton John, wearing heart-shaped glasses, ascended the steps for the premiere of Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman. There was also some concern. If it went badly Elton might well throw one of his famous strops. 

Happily, the film has gone down a storm. Dexter Fletcher, who did tidy-up work on Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was defenestrated, has confirmed the potential of earlier films such as Wild Bill and Sunshine on Leith with a delightful, sometimes fantastical musical that makes fine use of Elton’s most admired songs. The thing is an absolute hoot.

In contrast to the by-the-numbers Queen movie, Rocketman plays very much like a musical of the old school. The hits are staged as elaborate song-and-dance routines that spring spontaneously from the action.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, for instance, bursts out when Reggie Dwight, still just a kid from Pinner, is entertaining the locals at the pub piano. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me arrives as a duet between the older Elton (as Reg became) and his future wife.

Taron Egerton, so good in Fletcher’s Eddie the Eagle, makes a comic turn of a man who, despite well-documented crises, would be hard to play as a figure from Ibsen. He sings the songs well enough. He gets the suburban speaking vowels convincingly. Bryce Dallas Howard has fun as Elton’s permanently unimpressed mum. Jamie Bell makes a sensible northern cowboy of Bernie Taupin, Elton’s lyricist. 

The journey up is more fun than the familiar slump (not just from this story) into drink’n’drugs hell. Fletcher creates lovely semi-idealised images of London in the 1950s and 1960s: a walk down Denmark Street; the quiet desperation of petit-bourgeois life.

The latter sections are hampered not just by their familiarity – you just know something chemical will happen around a swimming pool – but also by the certain knowledge that, although Elton pulls himself together, we’re not heading to any proper revival of the career.

Let’s be frank. Nobody wants to hear much of his work after 1978.

Opinions will differ on the sex scenes. They do not count as coy, exactly. Elton and his untrustworthy Scottish manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), get a full-on roger to the early album track Take Me to the Pilot. But those expecting a full-on erotic spectacle will be in for a disappointment.

There was amused gasping as the film ended with a version of Russell Mulcahy’s video for I’m Still Standing, shot just metres from where the film was unspooling. That probably helped lengthen an already enormous standing ovation. 

Properly good fun.

Jim misses the old Cannes

To a well-tended lawn a few hundred metres from the Mediterranean for a conversation with Jim Jarmusch about this and that. The American film director, unmistakable with his shock-white hair and prescription shades, is sort of Cannes royalty. He won the Camera d’Or here 35 years ago, for Stranger than Paradise.

“Not royalty!” he says to me.

The republican equivalent, then. How has the festival changed since then?



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