Six months ago I was enamored with the Queen biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, giving it a 8/10, “a must see for everyone” rating. The following backlash for the movie, both from the movie scholars and critics, made me realize that the movie is actually far from perfect (for example, after it was awarded and Oscar for best editing, videos appeared citing it’s actual editing flaws and errors) and even just plain bad in some opinions. I revisited my reflections on it, but the rating remains unchanged.
My reasoning for this is: if it was about just any other artist, one that I’m not as familiar with and who isn’t as important for me and is less irreplaceable in the history of music, this would probably be a 6/10, “good movie”. But it’s not. It’s fricken Queen. It’s Freddie fuckin’ Mercury. Four stars, a must see for everyone.
I really wanted to check this reasoning, to have another music biopic, but one I wouldn’t be as biased for, to check if I’m right. A one-movie control group, if you will. And here comes “Rocketman”.
The Elton John biopic is in many ways a twin project to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It’s also about a pianist and a singer working in late 60s/early 70s who dressed flamboyantly on stage and was gay. Both of the movies were also made under strict supervision of the artists depicted (Elton himself here, and Brian May and Roger Taylor there). The difference is: I have virtually no relationship with his work. I know maybe three of his songs (after watching the movie I realized it’s more than that, like six or seven), and – as expected – the movie was much less impressive for me.
But that’s not all. It’s not that lack of emotional attachment that made me like “Rocketman” much less. Just two days after I watched “Rhapsody” once again (this time on a Sing-Along event in Prince Charles Cinema in London) – let’s call it a control group to a control group – and it ensured me it’s just a much better movie regardless of the artists and my relationship with them. Queen biopic is just a better movie.
“Rocketman” is a straightforward musical, while “Rhapsody” is a movie about music, where music is (mostly) diegetic and there are no musical dance scenes. Both movies are similarly framed – in Queen’s case it starts and ends on the Live Aid concert, while Elton’s story begins and ends in a therapy group. But in the latter case I’m sad to say throughout the movie there is basically no drama. Yes, Elton begins with admitting he’s a sex, drugs and alcohol addict, but there’s not much of all that throughout the movie. It’s all tell-don’t-show. And artistically it seems everything just comes naturally easy for him. Where “Bohemian” kept me on the edge of my seat in the in-group tension and on the verge of tears with Freddie’s relationships with the people around him, “Rocketman” is basically just a record of events.
I didn’t have a bad time, the music is good and the musical scenes pretty imaginative, but the whole movie is entirely forgettable.