Sir Elton Rocks, Jarmusch Flops, and Bill Murray Naps as the Festival Begins
We have liftoff! After Jim Jarmusch’s tepid Opening Night film earlier in the week, the Cannes Film Festival finally thundered into orbit with Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher’s deliriously phantasmagoric, manically entertaining biopic of Elton John. The legendary septuagenarian himself appeared last night at the film’s world premiere at the 2300-seat Grand Théâtre Lumière, where the rollicking rock-musical won over the wildly applauding black-tie crowd with ease.
Who doesn’t love Elton John? Paramount Pictures, possibly, since they told the festival not to play “Crocodile Rock” as people walked out of the theaters. Rumor has it the studio didn’t want the real recording to upstage Taron Egerton’s impressively competent vocal performance in the film. Unlike Rami Malek and his Oscar-winning karaoke rendition of Freddie Mercury, Egerton actually sings more than a dozen of the bestselling artist’s hits and acquits himself well.
He proved it again at the fawning afterparty, where he and John sang a duet of the title track while John played piano. Those festivities, by the way, were on the beach in front of the Carlton Hotel, the exact location where John filmed his comeback “I’m Still Standing” video back in 1983. The film’s climax recreated that now-cheesy artifact of MTV’s heavy-rotation playlist, which was irresistible catnip for the clap-happy audience. There’s nothing Cannes loves move than seeing itself on the big screen.
Egerton acts his heart out, too, by the way, vividly portraying John’s arc in Rocketman from shy musical prodigy to drug-addled monstrosity. The $41 million movie, though, lavishly produced and officially sanctioned, is a strange balance of salacious debauchery and sanitized mythmaking. John was the executive producer, after all, so there are limits to how deep the film gets into his life. But Fletcher’s flamboyantly steady hand keeps the film in firmly entertaining territory throughout. As a crowd-pleaser, the kaleidoscopic tuner easily earned the knee-jerk genuflection it received in Cannes.
Low-Key Old Hipster Zombies
Less enthusiastic was the reception for The Dead Don’t Die, Jarmusch’s odd, low-key riff on the lowbrow zombie genre. Maybe that Opening Night slot created unfair expectations for the star-studded film, which might have fared better in a less prestigious slot and fewer famous actors. Any movie sporting an eclectic mix like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Carol Kane, and RZA is going to have some great, if eccentric, expectations. But Jarmusch’s signature deadpan style didn’t overcome the script’s overly familiar anti-consumerist, anti-tech-addiction themes. By the time the end credits rolled, its Riviera audience seemed just as glassy-eyed as the film’s silver-screen ghouls.
Why is Zis Film, How Shall I Say It…So Bourgeois?
Then again, viewers also had to sit through an opening ceremony that preceded the feature. French comic Edouard Baer hosted the stilted 45-minute affair, conducted mostly in his native tongue with no simultaneous translation. The event started with a clip from Agnès Varda’s most recent film Varda par Agnès, a touching way to pay tribute to the 90-year-old filmmaker who died last March. But then it quickly devolved into Gallic caricature, as Baer pontificated on the meaning of cinema while a musician played an accordion under a giant Palme d’Or. “Philosophical humorist ramblings,” my Irish colleague snorted.
The press watched a video feed of the ceremony, as did the hoi polloi in 600 French theaters which simulcast it for the first time ever. And, due to an unfortunate fluke of timing, one of the cameras caught Bill Murray resting his eyes. “Bill Murray—ze man with ze poker face!” cried out Baer in broken English. Murray stared back with a mock-stern expression. “And Jim Jarmusch!” said Baer. “Ze genius with ze crazy silver hair! It’s so crazy. Thank you, sir, to be there!” Jarmusch smiled a wry grin. “Okay, zat’s done,” muttered Baer, and so officially began the 72nd edition of Cannes.