Any movie about Elton John would have to be much, much larger than life. Its spectacular subject has been a legend for decades, his songs ubiquitous, his stage presence iconic.
So when I say there are at least four movies knocking around in Rocketman, I don’t mean it as a slight. It’s a biopic and a jukebox musical and a romance, and also a movie about addiction, all crammed into a frenetic, jewel-studded ecstasy of a movie.
And you know what? For the most part, I think it works.
Rocketman is smart enough to not try to outshine its star. It’s flashy because Elton John is a light source all his own. It’s absolutely exploding with energy because Elton John is its pulse. It stumbles a few times — as has its subject — but on the whole, it’s a consistently good performance from start to finish, a movie rooted in a real story that nonetheless doesn’t keep itself too tethered to the ground.
Which is a bit of a relief. You don’t have to be a fan of Elton John’s music to know his music; even the most pop culture-oblivious person knows “Your Song,” and “Tiny Dancer,” and “Rocket Man.” And it’s easy, watching Taron Egerton play Elton John whipping a crowd into a frenzy, to understand his genius. It’s a solid introduction to the singer that is also guaranteed to please his fans.
And if the movie doesn’t reach his level, well, that’s fine. Can you really blame it?
Rocketman turns Elton John’s life into a musical, scored by himself
Rocketman has been a passion project for Dexter Fletcher, who was originally attached to direct an R-rated version of last year’s Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. That film was taken from him by 20th Century Fox and handed to Bryan Singer; when Singer was eventually fired from the project after going AWOL from the set, Fletcher was brought back on to finish and clean it up. (According to Fletcher, the film’s star, Rami Malek, told him that if Fletcher were to “come to set and shit on the floor, you’ll still do a better job than this guy.”)
Fletcher didn’t get a directorial credit on Bohemian Rhapsody, which turned out curiously bland for centering on such a flashy figure, but the movie was still a monster box office hit and nabbed nominations and wins throughout awards season.
Now it seems safe to say that Fletcher’s own time has come, and he’s made a movie that is, above all, aggressively not bland. It opens with Elton John (Egerton, who is excellent throughout), in a fiery orange, campy sequined devil suit with horns, striding through a hallway that looks like it might be backstage at a venue but turns out to be the hallway to an AA meeting. He plops himself into a chair, declares himself to be addicted to alcohol — and cocaine, and pills, and weed, and plenty of other things — and starts telling his life story to the slightly dumbfounded group.
That rock-bottom moment provides the film’s frame, which means this is more than just a paint-by-numbers saunter through the life of an icon. The screenplay by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse) tells the tale of a deeply lonely, deeply insecure man with addiction who’s launched to fame early but has a lot of hurdles to clear before he can learn to be a human.
Those hurdles start when he’s a child in an unhappy home, raised by a bitter mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), an attentive grandmother (Gemma Jones), and an emotionally absent father (Steven Mackintosh). He shows promise early, studying at the Royal Academy of Music and eventually attracting the attention of budding manager Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe), who connects him with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell).
The two men form what turns out to be a lifelong partnership, Bernie writing the lyrics, Elton writing the music and performing. And soon, it’s as if someone’s lit a rocket under Elton; in the film’s rendering, a gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles makes him into a superstar almost overnight, by his mid-20s.
It’s a wild ride, though the outlines are familiar: Unassuming boy from a small town hits it big, wins admirers, gets rich, finds love, loses love, alienates old friends, gets hooked on substances, crashes, and must overcome his own worst enemy: himself. Which is just what Rocketman does, particularly once his manager and lover John Reid (Richard Madden) enters the picture.
The film uses the rocker’s biggest hits as a trail of bread crumbs; although Taupin writes most of his lyrics, they’re still known as Elton John’s songs, and in Rocketman, they’re also the soundtrack to John’s own life, expressions of his longings and sadness and joy. It’s a jukebox musical about Elton John, using the music of Elton John, and the theatricality and personal nature of his songs work well for this purpose.
So even if the arc is somewhat predictable, it’s not a total wash. There’s a reason so many rocker biopics follow the same trajectory; it’s a mythology rooted in fact. We know, more or less, where this is going — the fun of Rocketman is how it gets there.
Rocketman tells a familiar story but in a mostly refreshing way
What Rocketman smartly does while telling a familiar arc is mess with some of the cinematic particulars to keep things from getting stale. (I saw the film at an 8 am screening, four weary days into the Cannes Film Festival, and I can say with certainty that it is never, ever boring.) The most successful technique Fletcher employs is letting the film stray away from too much realism; in the early Troubadour gig, for instance, when Elton starts playing “Crocodile Rock,” both he and the crowd begin to float up into the air. It’s a bit of fantasy that depicts the reality, the feeling of the music more than the literalism of it.
This happens throughout Rocketman, which employs everything from full-scale song-and-dance numbers on a carnival pier to cheeky montages seemingly mounted on a West End stage to the repeated appearance of Elton’s younger self. For the most part, it’s seamlessly woven into the narrative. We’re more inside Elton’s headspace than relying on Egerton to telegraph his emotions to us, as good as his performance is. (He can dance like a dervish and very competently does his own singing, if you were wondering.)
At times, though, Rocketman is less inventive than it should be — particularly at the end, when it employs the very tired but very common technique of showing us pictures of the movie’s characters next to real photos in order to, I don’t know, prove that they got it right? It’s unnecessary, a failure of imagination after hours of casting a magical spell over the audience. It suggests that the filmmaking team didn’t quite have the guts to go full throttle and lean into the spectacle that might have been possible.
Still, Rocketman knows its main job isn’t just to tell us about Elton John but to let us into his headspace, his struggles, and his lifelong search for love. And so it turns out the film is a romance — not between Elton and John Reid (though it does contain their much-touted, moderately explicit sex scene) but between Elton and Bernie, who is straight, loyal, and not afraid to plainly tell his friend that he loves him. The film spends less time dwelling on the machinations of celebrity and fame to focus on their story instead.
It’s a bit refreshing to see that kind of relationship portrayed with such openness and honesty, particularly in a friendship between two men that never slips into masculine buddy clichés. The composition of “Your Song,” with its familiar refrain of “how wonderful life is, now you’re in the world,” is collaborative for them precisely because it’s a song as well as a feeling that they share. And it’s Bernie’s steady love of his friend that is Elton’s anchor in the end. That’s what keeps Rocketman from becoming a tragedy.
So yes, Rocketman sometimes feels like it’s lost its way, especially near the end. But it’s still a joyous celebration, a colorful story about love that can help people heal. Filtered through Elton John’s beloved hits, it’s an outsize, audacious, jubilant take on a familiar story — and there’s no denying it’s shooting for the stars.
Rocketman opened at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, and opens in theaters in the US on May 29.
Lil Nas X and Wrangler’s “Old Town Road” clothing line inspires country music fan backlash
“Old Town Road” star Lil Nas X’s latest move is into fashion, courtesy of a collaboration with Wrangler, the legacy denim and apparel brand that’s become a signature element of the Western aesthetic.
The chart-topping rapper has partnered with the company to launch a capsule clothing collection inspired by his hit song and featuring graphic T-shirts, jeans, and other denim apparel. The collaboration is essentially an extension of one of the most memorable lyrics in “Old Town Road,” which shouts out Wrangler by name: “Cowboy hat from Gucci / Wrangler on my booty.”
Wrangler describes the capsule collection, which launched May 20, as “fresh remixes of classic Wrangler styles for the kind of modern cowboy that can’t be put in a box.”
That’s a cheeky reference to “Old Town Road” itself, which sparked an intense debate over whether the song counts as country music when it debuted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in March, and was subsequently removed. Despite its references to established Western themes and imagery — the song’s lyrics revolve around a lone cowboy riding his horse into the sunset, after all — Billboard said the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
Some country music fans and industry observers agreed, arguing that “Old Town Road” qualifies more as hip-hop than country. Others criticized Billboard for feeding rigid ideas about who or what qualifies as country enough, and suggested that Lil Nas X’s race played a part in the song’s reclassification; the fact that Lil Nas X is a black teenager from Atlanta and country is a predominantly white genre did not go unnoticed.
The song quickly became the catalyst for an industry-wide discussion about the definition of country music and racially tinged gatekeeping within the genre. It also became the top song in the country, and has now been No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks straight.
Just like the song itself riled some country music fans amid an outpouring of support for Lil Nas X from his own expansive fanbase, the rapper’s collaboration with Wrangler has met with a polarized response.
The Lil Nas X capsule collection is clearly intended to celebrate and capitalize on the success of “Old Town Road.” Although many Lil Nas X fans have expressed interest in buying the collection, Wrangler is also facing criticism from some consumers, many of whom are threatening to boycott.
Much of the backlash is playing out on social media, where Wrangler has received thousands of comments from customers expressing anger and “disappointment.” (It is unclear if customers have also been contacting the company via other, less public methods; Vox has reached out to Wrangler for comment.) And much of the current conversation revolves around how Wrangler seems to be promoting inclusivity by branching out from its reputation as a brand worn by cowboys and farmers.
Two recent Instagram posts from Wrangler showcasing items from its Lil Nas X collection have received more than 1,000 comments each. While plenty of people have commented on how awesome it looks or asking questions about where to buy, several have declared that the “Old Town Road” items are “ruining the cowboy name that y’all have.”
“Wranglers are to be worn by cowboys and farmers not rappers this is very disappointing,” reads one representative Instagram comment.
Some commenters have more explicitly mentioned race — or called out others’ racism.
“This is the dumbest thing i have seen all day,” one user wrote. “Wtf @wrangler? Why is it about diversity and equality ? There jeans. Quit playin politics.”
WRANGLER JUST PARTNERED WITH LIL NAS X AND THE RACIST ARE MAD GO BUY UP ALL THE WRANGLER LIL NAS X COLLAB JEANS YOU CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT DIVERSITY pic.twitter.com/gwH2G7dULj
— tyler (@tylerujhazy) May 21, 2019
Lil Nas X, for his part, seemed mildly surprised by the response.
i mean honestly white people act like they are the only ones who are cowboys. come to my town in louisiana, we pull up to mcdonalds on horses and have rodeos every weekend.
— Blair Waldorf (@teonnyspears) May 21, 2019
These comments are in the same vein as those used by some country music fans to describe “Old Town Road” when the song made its chart debut, arguing that rappers have no place in the genre (often while neglecting to acknowledge modern country’s own hip-hop influences). Lingering over this debate is race, which many Instagram users have called out in the comments on Wrangler’s posts. Country music is perceived as an insular, predominantly white genre, while Lil Nas X is a black rapper who draws influences from black artists and musical styles.
But Wrangler’s continued support of Lil Nas X is clear; the brand has been actively responding to its detractors on social media, simply repeating on that is devoted to creating high-quality products for all of its customers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the drama over the Lil Nas X collection has only served to draw more attention to it. Some pieces have already sold out, like a pair of shorts that say “Wrangler” on the booty, in keeping with the lyrics of “Old Town Road.” Considering that items in the collection cost between $39 for a graphic T-shirt and $129 for a pair of jeans, the outcry, at least from Wrangler’s perspective, seems to have paid off.
20 Times People Snapped Something Truly Exceptional and Shared the Pics With the World
We are living in the world that is full of surprises where every single day is a new chance to see something so unusual that it makes you doubt your own vision. A treble clef in a bag of fries, a cat whose fur went gray only on his ears, or a person with 6 fingers — these are just a few extraordinary sights that made people reach for their phones and take a pic.
Here at Bright Side we can’t wait to share our list with you of pics showing the standout things people snapped on their ordinary days.
20. Someone found a treble clef in their fries.
19. The pattern on this dog’s chest resembles a cat’s silhouette.
18. Someone saw a landscape on the bottom of their coffee mug.
17. This stone looks like a pile of mini chocolate bars.
16. This cloud looks like a shark.
15. “This stick I found looks like a burning torch, flame included!”
14. “My sweater sort of matches my pillowcase.”
13. “This truck is carrying nothing but a toy dump truck.”
12. “My empanadas have the filling stamped into them.”
11. “I randomly found the tiniest snail I’ve ever seen! (standard bobby pin for scale)”
10. “My cat has double fangs on both sides.”
9. “This tree near my school track has absorbed a fence and shows the pattern on its bark.”
8. “This is an X-ray of my hedgehog.”
7. “My 12-year-old sister made this perfect cake on her first ever try making one.”
6. “I won every single prize on this lottery ticket.”
5. “I made a giant cardboard statue of my face.”
4. “My cousin’s wedding dress from last night has its own pockets.”
3. This is one million dollars in $10 bills.
2. “A customer came in and let me take a picture of her hands that had 6 fingers on each.”
1. “My aunt’s cat’s ears grayed to here a couple years ago and haven’t changed since.”
Have you ever spotted something truly rare? Did you manage to take a picture of the unusual sight?
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