Tarion Egerton in a scene from "Rocketman", 2019

cannes film festival

When the lights came back up in the cavernous Grand Theatre Lumière after the world premiere of Rocketman, applause was thunderous and emotions ran high – especially in the central seats reserved for dignitaries and the film’s cast, gathered around its subjects: Bernie Taupin and Elton John.

The thunder was commensurate with the spectacle which had just concluded on the GTL’s widescreen which was augmented by the unique feeling of having absorbed a biographical celebration of someone actually present right there in the theater. Like Bernie Taupin declared: “They usually (make these pictures) about people who have passed away – and luckily we're still around to appreciate it.” An apt summary of the slightly uncanny experience the film delivered, as of a eulogy to a living person. 

The film is told in the form of first-person narration by an Elton John who has joined a 12-step recovery group to address various dependency issues and the audience could be forgiven for the sensation of having been a kind of mass support group for a pop confessional by the subject of the film, sitting just there.

Of course, the “creative rise-intoxicating fame-addiction crisis-redemption” cycle is a well-trodden trope of musical biopics. In Rocketman Dexter Fletcher, principally known hitherto as Bryan Singer’s replacement at the helm of Bohemian Rhapsody, happily makes Elton John’s beloved songs the backbone of the narrative, adapting them to tell the singer’s story of love-starved childhood, his irrepressible talent and how the two intertwine for a stellar career and a turbulent life. In other words, this musical biography is a proper musical, with musical numbers seamlessly folded into the narrative, and one that Taron Egerton carries both as actor and as singer. “As soon as I met (Taron) I felt there was something special there,” repeated Elton John about the film’s star on the Croisette. “And when I first heard him sing I was flabbergasted,  I said ‘God this is so hard to sing, this is just as good as my versions really.’” That is high praise indeed but well earned. The lucky audience was able to confirm it after the screening when John and Egerton took the stage of the Carlton Beach after party for an impromptu mini-concert which sealed the film’s Cannes triumph.