Elton John on ‘Rocketman’ vs. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’: ‘Ours Tells the Truth’

It’s a logical comparison: “Rocketman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are both biopics about British rock stars whose careers launched in the 1970s — Elton John and late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, respectively — and both were directed by Dexter Fletcher. So we had to ask the latest Academy Award winner for his thoughts.

“Ours tells the truth — even though it’s a fantasy,” John told Variety hours after picking up his second Oscar (for best original song for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” with longtime cowriter Bernie Taupin) and arriving at his 28th annual benefit for his AIDS foundation in West Hollywood. “My life can’t be sugarcoated, and I didn’t want it to be.”

Irony registered: John’s fantastical approach to the biopic format proved truer to life than 2018’s best picture nominee about Mercury’s rise and untimely death from AIDS. In fact, “BoRhap” gave new meaning to the Queen lyric: “Is this real life? / Or is this just fantasy?”

“Many critics have called into question the way ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ dramatized the real events of its story — and, in many cases throughout the film, completely made things up entirely to fit the story that Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor (who served as ‘executive music producers’) wanted to tell,” wrote Esquire around the film’s release. IndieWire reported that the film was “called out for factual inaccuracies including [the] ‘cruel’ handling of Freddie Mercury’s HIV Diagnosis.”

Exploiting Mercury’s fatal disease as a dramatic device — in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he comes out as positive to his bandmates during Live Aid rehearsals — isn’t just historically inaccurate (one of many revisions to the band’s story), a critic for the Daily Beast described it as a “manipulative version of tragedy porn” that “perpetuates the trope of AIDS as punishment for gay promiscuity.” ‘

Still John, the noted AIDS activist, won’t slam the movie. “Rami Malek’s performance won him an Oscar; Taron’s didn’t get nominated, but they were both great performances,” he said. “’Bohemian Rhapsody’ was a film for everyone, and it worked brilliantly. It brought the great music of Freddie Mercury to a whole bunch of people who would have never heard of him. I’m thrilled for the guys [in Queen].”

And while Egerton beat out both Daniel Craig and Leonardo DiCaprio to win Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, and with “Rocketman” scoring better reviews with a nearly identical consensus between critics (89%) and crowds (88%) on Rotten Tomatoes, John still feels stung by the Academy for snubbing Egerton. “I wanted to win for Taron Egerton, who was so amazing through this whole film — and he will win an Oscar someday,” John promised.

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