Talented. Flamboyant. Excessive. Those words can describe a lot of music icons from Mozart to Kurt Cobain. What makes Elton John’s story different is he lived to tell it. And tell it he does in Rocketman.
And the great advantage to living is you’re not at the mercy of others who may put a disingenuous spin on your story (I’m looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody).
Your His Song
Elton was involved in this movie at every juncture. He started by finding his spirit animal in Taron Egerton to play him as a young/early middle aged adult. Taron doesn’t just look like Elton back in the day, he does a great job sounding like him. Taron could have come in and lip-synched the early catalogue, but he took a hard pass and got his voice in shape.
The movie explores the key relationships that made him, literally, Elton. His relationship with his parents. His relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin. His sexual relationships. His relationships with drugs and alcohol.
Getting Into Character
Everyone in this movie transforms into their roles. I had to check IMDb to make sure that really was Bryce Dallas Howard as his mom. You never think you’re watching Taron be Elton. Wait.. is that Jamie Bell as Bernie?
Two children play young Elton, and even they are great. I want to give the youngest one a hug. But that would be strange. So I’ll pass.
So while, yes, this is Elton’s story and Taron’s vehicle, Rocketman is truly an ensemble effort.
Someone Saved His Life
The movie is billed as “based on a true fantasy.” And selling it that way is the key to Elton telling the story this way. It’s told primarily in flashback from Elton who walks into rehab in over-the-top, devil-esque regalia, and starts telling his story. (The real fantasy is that any one person would be allowed to dominate group therapy like that)
We see his natural talent emerge despite, or because of, being raised in a home with little to no affection. He embarks on road to find himself musically and sexually. And this is all told through fantasy musical numbers. I mean full on production numbers. There are times, especially in the first half, that this feels more like a broadway show adapted for the big screen.
Another perk of telling this as a ‘true fantasy’ is that the music doesn’t even try to go in sequence with the release of his actual catalog. But that’s fine. I would much rather the music fit the mood than a particularly specific time period. It works.
But what I found to be disingenuous was that Elton, while promoting the film, wanted to show his life, warts and all. No sugar coating. And he said it was tough watching his life play out before his eyes on the big screen.
But I feel there was some sugar coating. Yes, we see Elton turn diva-bitchiness into an art form. We see him drink more and eventually put a pile of coke up his nose. And the suicide sequence is the most powerful of the film.
But it all feels like it was being checked off a list. If you’ve followed Elton’s story, you’ve heard him say he looked in the mirror in the late-eighties/early-nineties and realized he was a mess. Bloated, on the verge of death at any time, and barely able to function.
Taron’s look is never taken to those extremes. A true rock bottom eludes this version of the character and the audience.
On the whole, this is a solid movie. The music is superb thanks to amazing arrangements to fit the ‘true fantasy’ theme. The performances are great. But in the end, the audience is short changed on the ‘true’ and over-served on the ‘fantasy.’
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Liquid Cocaine. It embodies the two things Elton loved most through the 80s.