May 22, 2019
By Jayson Mansaray and Marie-Louise Gumuchian
LONDON (Reuters) – With hit tunes, a plot about one of the world’s best known performers and flamboyant costumes, “Rocketman” brings Elton John’s story to the big screen, the latest musical biopic offering a concert-like experience at the cinema.
“Kingsman” actor Taron Egerton stars as the “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” hitmaker, belting out John’s songs as he revisits the singer’s road to success as well as his personal struggles.
The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival with John present, has drawn comparisons to last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” about rockers Queen’s stratospheric rise to fame.
That movie, which received mixed reviews, won a best actor Oscar for Rami Malek and grossed $903 million worldwide – a sign of audiences’ appetite for seeing their icons’ story and music on the silver screen.
“I’m very grateful that people compare us and hopefully it shows that there is an appetite for movies of this nature,” Egerton said of the two films at Cannes.
Music biopics have long been a popular genre but what distinguishes this “new wave” is the artist’s involvement and music catalog to create concert-like scenes, said Scott Roxborough, European bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter.
“What a lot of these films are selling is this idea that you can have the experience as if you were going to a concert … go behind the scenes and get to know them,” Roxborough said.
He said this was “not the idea of previous biopics which was often revealing the dark side of these musical heroes.”
Like “Bohemian Rhapsody”‘s take on late singer Freddie Mercury, “Rocketman” tracks John’s personal battles as his success grows.
“I would say ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (is) not a pressure, if anything it’s opened the gates for us,” “Rocketman” producer Matthew Vaughn told Reuters.
“Mamma Mia”, not a music biopic but featuring plenty of all-singing and dancing ABBA numbers, was a box office smash in 2008 and inspired a sequel last year.
“Straight Outta Compton” about rap collective N.W.A from Compton, California was also a success upon its 2015 release.
“It’s growing constantly year on year … as studios try and make bigger and more bombastic movies, they’re infusing musical biopics with this new energy,” Ali Griffiths, social editor at Digital Spy, said when asked about appetite for the genre.
“Since probably ‘Mamma Mia’… they realized they could make a musical like a cinematic experience.”
In March, Netflix released Motley Crue biopic “The Dirt” based on the heavy metal band’s autobiography and other celebrity-inspired stories are in the works.
“Stardust”, looking at David Bowie’s first trip to the United States is in the making, although the late singer’s family are not involved in the project.
Its producers have been quoted as saying it is not a biopic but “a moment in time film, at a turning point in David’s life”.
Celine Dion is the inspiration for “The Power of Love”, which is said to draw from the pop singer’s life and will use her hit power ballads, according to film industry publications.
Gaumont, the French company linked to the project, could not immediately be reached for comment.
“We will see a lot more (music biopics) being done and I think probably more in the style where there’s a lot more music in the films, and a lot more sort of concert performance,” Roxborough said, adding they would be more celebratory and a less critical portrayal.
Digital Spy’s Griffiths said more rock biopics were likely: “Like The (Rolling) Stones, but I’m excited to see so more like contemporary films, like wouldn’t it be cool to see a biopic of Adele’s life with her music.”
(Reporting by Jayson Mansaray and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; additional reporting by Johnny Cotton in Cannes; Editing by Edmund Blair)