And I think it’s gonna to be a long long time… till we have another movie of this kind.
Born in Middlesex, England, Reginald Dwight grew up in a bitter household with self-absorbed parents who eventually split-up. During this time, he developed a passion for music, and could play any song on the piano by ear. Under his nanny’s guidance, Reginald got accepted into the Royal Academy of Music. Over time, Reginald’s talent grew tremendously and he started picking up gigs, eventually partnering up with lyricist Bernie Taupin to collaborate on writing songs.
After their songs become hits, Reginald adopted a stage name, Elton John, and becomes an instant musical sensation around the world. On the downside, his fame and longing for connection soon start to get the better of him and he descends into a downward spiral of substance abuse and long-lasting depression before he finally turns his life around. Now, after many years in development, Elton John’s life story brought to life on the big screen Rocketman, with Taron Egerton portraying Elton.
When watching this film, it is almost inevitable to start comparing it to last year’s Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only do they both depict a legendary rock legend’s rise, fall, and recovery, but both are directed by Dexter Fletcher (although he technically only directed part of Bohemian). However, while Bohemian Rhapsody is a straightforward biopic, Rocketman is a musical fantasy with choreographed dance numbers. Telling Elton John’s story as a musical was a smart move on Fetcher’s part, because it makes for great entertainment and fits Elton John’s character, making the film more personal. In fact, Elton was involved in the film’s production.
The film’s musical numbers are top notch. It admittedly has a shaky start with renditions of both ‘The Bitch is Back’ and ‘I Want Love,’ which are sound fine but needed more inspired choreography. (Also, although I’m not sure how people will react to a child singing the line “I’m a bitch” over and over again, kudos to Kit Connor for his singing voice!) The musical sequence that will blow everyone out of the water, though, is the rendition of ‘Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting.’ Everything about this sequence, from the camera work, to the choreography is indescribably fun and energetic. I remember, at my screening wanting to just jump out of my seat and dance along, as if I were at a rock concert. What is also nice about these musical numbers is that they are appropriately placed within the story, both in terms of lyrics and energy. Describing these numbers doesn’t do them justice–they need to be seen to be believed.
Like Bohemian Rhapsody, the film tries to cram several important events of Elton John’s life into a two-hour runtime, but Rocketman’s directing and writing are so good that the film does not come none of it comes off as rushed or shallow. One example appears in the in the first act, where Elton performs in a club. The club’s owner could have just been a typical club owner you see in films about music, but the actor makes his presence known to the audience, and even manages to score some impressive laughs with his snappy dialogue. It is as if the filmmakers were trying to tell us “We know you know what happens in this scene, but let’s add something extra to it!”
It is also interesting how the filmmakers show less of Elton’s rise to fame and more of his trying to survive his fame, and how his lack of connection with others leads to his abuse of drugs and alcoholism. The audience is allowed to feel for Elton every step of the way, thanks to both the film’s impressive pacing, as well as Taron Egerton’s performance. In the early stages of this film’s development, many actors were considered for the role of Elton John, such as Tom Hardy and Justin Timberlake, who was Elton’s personal choice. In all honesty though, after seeing Taron Egerton in this film, it is impossible for me to imagine anybody else in those winged shoes.
Egerton is charismatic and alive when he is performing as Elton, and the fact that he is using his real singing voice, which sounds a lot like Elton’s, makes the performance that much more visceral. For those who do not remember, Egerton had previously performed the Elton John tune ‘I’m Still Standing’ in Illumination’s 2016 animated film, Sing. That should have gotten him the job on the spot!
There is one scene in particular that really stands out. Following a heartbreaking attempt in telling his father face-to-face that he is gay, Elton, on the way to his next concert, stops by a phone booth and calls his mother to tell her the same news. His mother responds by saying, “You think I didn’t know that already 2019 – 05/21”, only to follow up with “You will never be loved properly.” In most mainstream films regarding LGBTQ themes (though there are not many), the mother is usually seen as being supportive, but this scene reminds us that this is not always the case. The moment the camera cuts, you immediately see the heartbreak and trauma on Elton’s face, especially since he has to deal with his emotionally abusive manager and lover. As heartbreaking as this scene is, it is successful in setting up the path towards Elton’s breakdown, and eventual recovery.
Rocketman, as a film, has a lot to offer in terms of insight and entertainment, but it also presents a strong allegory for the themes of self-compassion and forgiveness. Many films try to tackle these themes with unfortunately shallow results, but Rocketman does such a great job of putting us in Elton’s shoes and helping us feel his pain, that it feels genuinely heartbreaking when he breaks down, and inspiring when he recovers. Even more inspiring is a newly written song played over the film’s end credits titled ‘I’m Going to Love Me Again,’ which the real Elton John sings with Taron Egerton. If I had any criticism with the film at the moment, would be that I would have liked to have seen the two of them singing together. But, at least we have their duet of ‘Tiny Dancer’ to enjoy!
Rocketman is both an energetic and refreshing take on the musician biopic that manages to feel both fantastical and sincere. I would be shocked if this film did not receive the same amount of attention and financial success that Bohemian Rhapsody did and it would be well deserved this time around. The energy of this film is so contagious, that I guarantee that you will be clapping and singing along with the songs, because I know I did. In fact, when a member of my audience dropped their thermos on the ground, I suddenly realized that I forgot that I was part of an audience, because the film had fully seduced me by then. It is wonderful for Elton John fans, and even those who aren’t should find something to like as well!