Lately, I’ve been wondering a lot about what makes some things cool while others are passed over without a second glance. Something that sparked this is the public reaction to Bohemian Rhapsody versus that to Rocketman. Nearly every review I’ve read speaks higher of Rocketman than Rhapsody, but the latter grossed nearly 5 times more. It’s important to note that movie critics (myself included) don’t always have views that line up neatly with the general public.
This could be for a number of reasons. Bohemian Rhapsody was a more straightforward film without all the fantastical embellishments of Rocketman. It told the story in a linear format and didn’t require much backstory or outside contemplation. I think most people like that kind of shallow storytelling and that’s why superhero movies are always such smash hits.
Rami Malek is much more of a dead ringer for Freddy Mercury than Taron Edgerton is of Elton John. All through the movie you’re thinking “Elton John was never that good looking, was he?” I’ve seen pictures from the early seventies and (though the guy is one of the greatest songwriters in history) when a coworker told me I reminded him of Elton one night I immediately went to the barbershop.
I’m not a huge fan of Edgerton but I must say I was impressed with his performance. While his voice leaves something lacking (as anyone’s would, don’t take that the wrong way) I felt it lent authenticity to his performance. In a way, it made that six-pack disappear into a glow of sparkly peacock outfits.
The biggest difference people have noted about the films is that the R-Rated Rocketman didn’t gloss over the hedonistic rockstar life. I’m sure a lot of American audiences were turned off by that as most of us are still very weirded out by man-on-man action. I’m an open-minded person and appreciated the “warts an all” approach of the film. The only time I felt the line was crossed was when they played a snippet of the title track from his 1979 disco album Victim of Love. I can handle onscreen homosexual love without much difficulty but come on guys… I’m only human.*
Still, even with my few complaints – like no songs from Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – I think Rocketman was the far superior film. It was ambitious. It was engaging. It was a full-length film with no fill, much like most of Elton’s albums.
I can’t help but think a lot of its lack of success deals with the fact that Elton John is still uncool and something of a guilty pleasure. A coworker asked me if I was listening to “that faggot” a few weeks ago when I put on Madman Across the Water while filling out paperwork. A different coworker told me “you know, he actually does some good music,” when I told him about going to see the Farewell Tour last year. I can’t help but wonder if these comments would have come if I’d played A Night at the Opera or gone for the Adam Lambert-fronted tour.
I suppose things like this come up with a lot of things. I notice it with Michael Jackson and Prince. Cardi B and… well, Cardi B. Any rock musician and Billy Joel.
But who cares? There are still enough uncool people that the film was a huge success. There are still enough uncool people to pack stadiums and watch Elton perform hits from his 50 years of not being cool. Who gives a shit about what’s cool?
Well, maybe you do… if you’re one of those people I would strongly suggest you stay away from this film and any of Elton’s work from 1970-71. I think it’s some of the greatest art ever etched into vinyl, but I’m a very, very uncool person.
*Elton John’s cover of “Johnny B. Goode” from that album is more stomach-turning than Robin Williams’ full-frontal nudity from The Fisher King or Colin Farrell’s beanbag from Alexander.