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Why Rocketman is the Best Music Biopic

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mt Holyoke chapter.

Content warning: drug use and suicide

In recent years, we’ve seen the film industry become increasingly saturated with more and more movies about some of pop culture’s most iconic musical figures. From Elvis, to Blonde, to the many more biopics in the works, Hollywood has begun to churn out biographical pictures at a rapid rate. While this recent inundation has worn away some of the genre’s initial intrigue, with the majority of the films now feeling like carbon copies of each other with merely a different face on the poster, there is one music biopic which, in my opinion, continues to stand above the rest as the genre’s pinnacle.

Unlike other musician biopics which feel their only reason for existing is as biopics, Rocketman stands independent from the obvious draw of its title character as simply an amazing film in its own right. On a stylistic, technical, and narrative level, I believe it far exceeds many of the other flashier and more purely capitalistic ventures in its avant garde creativity, narrative originality, and refreshing humanization of the lead character.

The bulk of music biopics assume relatively the same form; they begin with the artist’s humble beginnings, chronicle their rise to fame and then some inevitable low point, but ultimately end on an inspiring celebration of the artist’s impact. At face value, Rocketman does all of these things, but the artistic manner in which it achieves them immediately separates it from all other films of the genre. Rocketman is incredibly unique in how deeply it leans into its subject matter’s showmanship by making the story a musical, an extremely intelligent narrative choice which effectively represents Elton John for the true performer that he is at his core. The flashiness and decadence of the “Honky Catnumber, the fantastical shot of John suspended in a swimming pool/ocean as he reaches for his childhood self who hauntingly sings “Rocketmanat the seafloor, and the scene where the audience floats in the air during “Crocodile Rock” literally transport you into those moments of pure musical magic. It’s the same magic that the audience sees John discover as a child when he imagines himself playing before an orchestra in his bedroom or when an adult John is led through the neighborhood of his childhood as the story begins, quite literally pulling the viewer into that space as well. The film is, at its score, driven by this celebration of music and performance itself, and its stylistic choices handle this flashy homage to showmanship and John’s identity in a beautiful and truly artistic way. 

Furthermore, the choice to make the film a musical and fill it with these vibrant dance numbers and fantastical scenes that work seamlessly with the narrative means that, whereas the time jumps in other biopics often feel rushed or incongruous, in Rocketman, the musical storytelling deftly progresses the story. Take the transition scene of young Elton to teenaged Elton in “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fightingor the fast-paced but still effectively characterizing number of John’s relationship with his manager in “Honky Cat”. The musical numbers have a functional as well as artistic purpose in that they enable the film to tell compact stretches of John’s life in a condensed, but nonetheless comprehensive, manner. Yet the thrilling audience engagement in these numbers also prevents it from feeling like a montage, as has been the case with films like Bohemian Rhapsody or Elvis which rush through or gloss over many periods of the artist’s life. Rocketman is such an impressive feat in that it is able to dedicate this care and time to each stage of John’s life, yet it also manages to cover more ground than most other biopics, given that it starts at John’s childhood rather than the take-off of his career. It is a testament to the quality of the filmmaking that, despite having more time to cover than the more unevenly-spaced narratives of other biopics that concern shorter spans of an artist’s life, Rocketman still has as much, if not more, narrative cohesion than these films.

And you get this in the thematic cohesion of the story as well. Again, Rocketman feels like it has an actual story to tell, apart from just capitalizing on its subject’s fame or functioning as merely a vague greatest hits story. Although it has the common hallmarks of drug use, misguided marriages, and an unlikely rise to fame found in the blueprint for nearly all musician biopics, Rocketman feels like it has something valuable to say apart from just chronicling the singer’s career. It’s a story thematically bound by self-acceptance, overcoming past traumas, and the pain and loneliness that can come from being at the top. From struggling to be seen by his neglectful father, to literally changing his name, to losing himself to alcohol and drugs later in life, to his struggles to come to terms with his sexuality, audiences see John’s constant battle to confront his identity and internal demons. As we see in the end scene, where John joyfully dances out of his rehab clinic to “I’m Still Standing”, the film is very much a cyclical and powerfully developed story about healing, humility, and the recognition that, in order to heal, you have to confront the dark parts of yourself and reach out for help, but you also need to give yourself grace for these traumas. For me, the most striking example of this is in the climactic scene where John, who has recently checked into rehab, faces off with a circle of his family members, managers, and friends and ultimately confronts his childhood self, who echoes an earlier line young Elton had spoken to his absentee father— “when are you going to hug me?” — and the two finally embrace in an intensely emotional moment. One gets the sense that John is not just healing from his struggle from substance abuse, but these other emotional traumas that have haunted him as well. Again, it’s this idea of a person who’s been running away and hiding from himself but who is now finally accepting who he is, for all his ugly parts, that unites the narrative in this extremely emotionally affective way. 

These “ugly parts” abound in the film. Whereas a film like Elvis largely sanitizes much of the grittier aspects of the King of Rock’s career, only half-heartedly attempting to represent Presley’s complicated relationship with appropriating Black musicians, Rocketman presents an unflinching look at John as a person, warts and all. The film digs into some of his darkest moments of his career, from drug overdoses, attempted suicides, to moments where he is just a plain old jerk to the people around him. Again, the film being rooted in self-acceptance, this all comes back to John’s final reckoning in the rehab center—that moment of looking in the mirror, accepting yourself for all that you are, and determining to heal. This raw, and at times unflattering, portrayal of John truly humanizes him and takes away some of the distance that exists between the audience and the artist in biopics like Elvis where you get a sense that the figure being portrayed is merely the idea of them which pop culture holds, rather than the actual person. In one scene from the “Rocketmannumber, for example, the audience sees John stumble blearily off of a stretcher and snort cocaine, a stagehand injecting drugs into his arm right as he rolls onto stage with a clearly fake smile plastered on his face. This is what Rocketman does, in my opinion better than any other biopic—it takes the audience backstage, tearing down the performer to reveal the real person underneath. 

It seems ironic that John portrays himself in this way, given that he is still living and had a relative say in the movie making process, unlike the subjects in other biopics who are deceased and often end up being highly romanticized. It says a lot about John himself that he owns his narrative for all the mistakes he’s made and the less-than idealized periods of his life, because, as the end of the film shows, he honors them as part of his journey and eventual awakening that enabled him to come out stronger than before. I find it so admirable that he recognizes these epic lows of his life along with the highs, making the final sentiment of “I’m still standing!” feel all the more powerful. From the beautiful visuals, extravagant numbers, and intense care that the film takes with the story of one of music’s greatest icons, the audience inevitably sings this joyful chorus right along with him. 

If you would like to write for Her Campus Mount Holyoke, or if you have any questions or comments for us, please email hc.mtholyoke@hercampus.com.   

Sarah Grinnell

Mt Holyoke '26

Hi! My name is Sarah, and I am a sophomore at Mount Holyoke with a prospective double major in English and studio art. I love to read (Jane Austen is one of my faves <3), write, paint, and watch movies and cartoons, and I'm super geeky for all things fantasy and sci-fi