Elton Hercules John’s (Taron Egerton) humble beginnings reveal two uncaring, self-centered parents. They pushed the shy Elton away from them toward opportunities in music and eventually toward self-destruction.
Finding expression through his music, Elton and songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) used their life experiences to write memorable tunes that connected with millions.
As Elton John’s music launched his career toward the heavens, his personal life fell back to Earth, forcing him to choose between self-honesty or death by deceit.
“Rocketman” is the musical biography of Elton John’s sordid life of drugs, sex and rock-n-roll.
Beginning at his rock bottom in a therapy group, audiences follow the life behind the music. Elton John’s catchy tunes have allowed listeners to overlay his lyrics on their lives to connect with his music. This film asks viewers to connect his lyrics with his life, imbuing his hits with deeper meaning and emotion for fans. This film should create new fans and resuscitate interest in John’s timeless hits.
“Rocketman” could have been a film simply about the music and the costumes, but it is much more. Following Elton’s sad childhood and his search for acceptance and love is both an emotionally taxing journey and a toe-tapping enjoyable experience.
Director Dexter Fletcher creates a compelling narrative offering unusual visual moments that represent Elton’s career trajectory and his internal feelings.
Egerton and Bell give strong performances, with Bell’s Bernie being the unrecognized anchor in Elton’s life. Egerton’s Elton has the mannerisms, the look and even the same breathing pattern Elton uses to sing.
“Rocketman” uses honesty and emotion to flavor timeless hits, as viewers gladly saunter down Elton John’s yellow brick road.
A jumping jukebox musical with fantasy elements, “Rocketman” is a greatest hits biopic of Elton John’s early years, contrasting his skyrocketing showman performances with the turbulence in his personal life.
At its best, deeply personal performances give the intimate scenes an emotional heft. Taron Egerton fully immerses himself into the pain and glory aspects of the role, tapping into difficult poignant scenes with fierce conviction and then plugging into the singular electric energy of Elton on stage with genuine zeal.
Egerton and Jamie Bell provide real heft to Elton and Bernie Taupin’s longtime musical partnership. Bell, long a favorite since his brilliant young turn as “Billy Elliot” in 2000, is sensational as his most loyal friend and writing partner, creating a genuine bond with Elton that’s perhaps the best part of the narrative.
The acting is strong, with good work from Richard Madden as his manager and lover John Reid, Bryce Dallas Howard as his not-very-motherly mother Sheila Farebrother, Steven Mackintosh as Elton’s cold and distant father Stanley (the adult visit scene will break your heart), Gemma Jones as his supportive grandmother Ivy, Matthew Illesley as the young Reggie and Kit Connor as the older child Reggie.
Director Dexter Fletcher, who rescued “Bohemian Rhapsody” after director Bryan Singer’s public sex scandal forced him off the film (but still had credit), keeps everything swirling and fluid, advancing the “smalltown boy makes it to become international icon” theme. But he concentrates too much on the self-destructive wild party years – a little balance would have been nice – and there isn’t a timeline for those unfamiliar with John’s career trajectory to have any sense of time.
It’s only because Elton John has been the soundtrack of my life that I knew “Your Song” was his breakout smash hit in 1970, from his second album, as I was a junior in high school and we learned the song to perform it at a school assembly, sang it to the graduating seniors. My personal favorite album of his, “Madman Across the Water,” came out in 1971 (“Tiny Dancer”), “Honky Chateau” with “Rocketman” was 1972. Some of his biggest albums were during my college years – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” and his cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” after “Tommy” the movie came out in 1975, in addition to his no. 1 pop song, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Kiki Dee.
When he checks himself into rehab, and then returns with the uplifting song “I’m Still Standing,” the creative team meticulously recreate the famous music video that played in heavy rotation on MTV in 1983.
As expected, Julian Day’s costumes capture Elton’s most memorable outfits and his flamboyant fashion style.
With flashy choreography by Adam Murray, some musical numbers are staged like a Broadway play. You can see this being adapted for the West End and Broadway in coming years. As a musical, the catalogue is deep, and music director Matthew Margeson mixes up the tone and style of some numbers, never completing an entire song.
The movie provides a revealing backstory, and screenwriter Lee Hall, who also wrote the movie “Billy Elliot,” which Elton turned into an award-winning musical, captured the significant milestones in Elton’s life with a sincerity that makes the highs and lows relatable. However, the brief marriage in 1984 to Renata Blauel, his close friend and sound engineer, which only lasted three years, is given short shrift.
Despite a few bumps in execution, “Rocketman” delivers a solid, if not comprehensive, biopic with impressive performances and a dynamic soundtrack that showcases why Elton John became a global superstar. It left me wanting more, opening the door for a sequel about the next 28 years, some of which they highlight during the credits.