Tag Archives: Dexter Fletcher

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 152 – Rocketman

A musical biopic that understands its own music, that uses its songs not necessarily when they’re chronologically appropriate but when they fit emotionally and thematically, Rocketman beautifully and energetically tells the story of Elton John’s rise to and struggles with fame. Taron Egerton is notable for his work in the Kingsman films, but here he is given a true star role, imbuing his Elton with attitude, presence, and a bolshy walk. And, for the two of us in particular, it does us the great favour of giving us a new appreciation for the music, helping us realise that each of us has always taken both it and Elton’s cultural importance for granted.

The film is produced by Elton, functioning as a sort of autobiography, and although this justifiably raises questions of authenticity, honesty, filtering and bias, the film and man are so likeable, and the way in which it depicts his lowest points so open, the film completely sells its story and depiction of Elton’s character and those around him. (Though, as José describes, the coda in which we’re shown a modern, married, parental Elton, who is nothing like the one whose story we’ve just been told, does suggest that for all the authenticity we feel during the film, the message we’re left with is a somewhat disappointing, “anyway, that was a different Elton, I’m not him any more”.) Similarly, certain tropes common to gay stories, such as pining for a straight friend, being isolated emotionally, and being preyed upon by another, more confident, gay character – something we criticised Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody for – are here rendered convincing and understandable.

We fall in love with its style and storytelling strategy, the risks it takes in building slightly cheesy set-pieces, set-pieces that indeed reflect a certain amount of cheesiness present in Elton himself. The film impressively and confidently narrativises its music, flowing into songs, turning emotionally-charged conversations smoothly into musical numbers, liberal new arrangements allowing Elton’s entire family to share their loneliness in I Want Love and making Elton’s decision to enter therapy a moment of trumpet-worthy triumph. José doesn’t go for the climactic moment with Elton’s childhood self, but Mike is with it completely, tearing up – before Elton could heal, before he could love, before he could fight all his addictions and fears and pain, he first needed to learn to love himself!

Rocketman is simply wonderful. It deeply understands its own music and freely reworks it to give it new life and teaches us to love and appreciate it all over again. It’s lively, funny, imaginative, bold and entirely engrossing. Don’t miss it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Sunshine on Leith (Dexter Fletcher, UK, 2013)

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Sunshine on Leith is all ‘rah-rah Scotland’, tartanry, and views of Edinburgh so pretty they wouldn’t be out of place on shortbread tins. It’s got men being ‘macho’ in a ‘trying-too-hard’ kind of way, rather like Gene Kelly in Brigadoon, but with military accoutrements and beer to add to the posturing. It’s also got communal singing in pubs; and Scottish dancing in social clubs and inside the National Gallery of Scotland; and outside of  it, on Princess Street by Waverley Station; in fact it’s got quite good singing and quite bad dancing from beginning to end, punctuated by fistfights , melodrama and romance.

Whether you like  the film or not will depend on how you feel about the music of The Proclaimers (meh for me) and on how well you tolerate melodrama (I generally love it). Peter Mullan is great as the father and he’s got a very moving solo singing ‘Oh Jean’ in a deep gruff voice. Jane Horrocks with her pinched face and high voice is less offensive than usual though the plot attributes all kinds of unreasonableness to her. Paul Brannigan, first seen by me inThe Angel’s Share  and already something of a symbol of Scottishness, has a nice cameo as a former squaddie who’s now a paraplegic and whose sole purpose in the film is to act as a  ‘There but for the grace of God…’ figure to the rest of the boys. The film has a very appealing young cast who can sing (but it’s those songs). They can’t dance , even though the film calls on them to do so quite often, but  they move well and a good flash mob hides a multitude of sins.

There’s none of the visual expressiveness one expects of musicals .Yet the feeling of communal utopia is laid on thick and shamelessly, though not without charm. There’s bound to be lots written on it, maybe just as much as there was on Gregory’s Girl or Trainspotting. The current Scottish films (and this includes Filth) aren’t as good but the politics of the moment and what these films express about them are perhaps more interesting. What problems is ‘Sunshine on Leith’ providing imaginary resolutions to? Well, Scottish Independence seems to figure centrally if not overtly. The film seems to be saying that you can go out for adventure but home is best, even if you work in a call centre. England is visualized as a lovely girl of Asian descent who gets together with strong and proud Scotland. But though he would walk 500 miles, and he would walk 500 more, the door he’s planning to fall on is high up, by Leith, near Edinburgh Castle and not too far from the Highlands, and according to Sunshine on Leith, the best, and certainly the prettiest, of all possible worlds.

In spite of the corn of it all, the patriotism, and some degree of …perhaps not ineptitude…more like a lack flair and imagination, it’s nice to see a British musical. I don’t remember ever seeing a Scottish one.  And you do leave the cinema humming, even if what you’re humming is rather clod-hoppy and crude.

José Arroyo