Last month we saw Taron Egerton on the set of Rocketman dressed as Elton John, and Kathleen dubbed him “Hot Elton”. Well, now we have a teaser trailer for Rocketman that shows Egerton in action as Sir Elton and I’m less into the hotness of it and more struck by the transformation. Not unlike Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, it’s not that Egerton is unrecognizable, it’s that he’s convincing enough to make us forget this is an impression. Also, that is Taron Egerton singing, which is a departure from Malek-Mercury, as Bohemian Rhapsody is invested in torturous vocal processing combining Malek’s vocals, Freddie Mercury’s vocals, and a “sound-alike” to create Freddie’s voice for the film. But Rocketman just has Egerton doing decent Sir Elton karaoke. Is that more or less impressive to you? Sir Elton’s voice is distinctive but is it as challenging as Freddie Mercury’s? I’m not sure ANYONE could reasonably recreate Freddie’s voice, where mimicking Elton John is not impossible. Still, Egerton is doing all of the singing, which is not nothing.
This movie is going to get compared A LOT to Bohemian Rhapsody. I put this teaser on the same level as the Bohemian Rhapsody teaser, mainly because they’re both doing the same thing, which is convincing us these guys are doing a good job recreating famous rock stars. Egerton looks believable as Sir Elton, the costumes are certainly fantastic, and the singing sounds good. Where Rocketman can set itself apart, though, is in how it deals with the parts of Sir Elton’s life that were not as widely accepted back then as they are today. Right now, it looks like Rocketman is trying to split the same difference as Bohemian Rhapsody. Sure, there’s a saucy wink from Sir Elton’s manager-boyfriend John Reid (Richard Madden, whose Robb Stark voiceover is a little disorienting at first), but there’s also a suggestive glance from a woman. (Like Mercury, Elton had relationships with women, although he has since said that he caused a lot of heartbreak, for them and himself, because he denied himself for so long.) Hopefully then, seeing as both Elton and his husband David Furnish have producing credits on the film, unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman will commit to the fact that its star is gay.
Again, choices. These are choices made based on what the studio thinks people want to see. What does that say about the movie? What does that say about us? I keep coming back to the ads released for Call Me By Your Name that showed Elio and Marzia, the Italian girl with whom Elio has a brief relationship before he begins his affair with Oliver. It’s not that the Elio-Marzia relationship isn’t important, it’s that the movie is not about them and marketing it as a straight romance is dishonest. The teasers for Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody do acknowledge the male partners in their subjects’ lives, but at the same time they are quick to show sexy women and imply the straight appeal of their subjects.
I’m not looking for these movies to be exploitative or to ignore when their subjects have meaningful relationships with the opposite sex (Freddie Mercury never officially came out, after all). I just think we can be honest today about who they were then, and it would be interesting for a piece of contemporary cinematic art to examine the gap between then and now. What’s changed? What hasn’t changed? What does the way these icons were treated back then say about us as humans? What does our skimming around the subject today say about us now? Biopics without meaningful inquiry are just two hour character impressions at worst, a history lesson at best. But having an opinion, taking a stance and using a perspective to examine the subject through specific lenses leads to insight. I am convinced that Rocketman will be, at least, an entertaining history lesson. The question is whether or not it will be anything more.