A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.
Confession: I’m a longtime Elton John fan. I’ve never met the man, but as I have tried to teach myself to tickle the ivories, he’s the nearest thing I’ve had to a piano teacher. His music can be stripped of all the accompanying instruments and it still sounds recognizably Captain Fantastic, as he proved on a solo tour of Russia 40 years ago. Simpler means easier to emulate; easier for a fumble-fingered aspiring pianist to learn. So, it was with great anticipation that I awaited Rocketman, the musical biopic of Elton John’s life.
Whether these kinds of movies are becoming the “in” thing—this, just a year after Rami Malek won a best-actor Academy Award for his portrayal of another rock star, Freddie Mercury, in Bohemian Rhapsody—remains to be seen. Taron Egerton is justifiably earning rave reviews for his portrayal of John, though he is neither the rock star’s spitting image in sound or appearance. But like Bohemian Rhapsody, his interpretation brings out the nuances of a rock star gone over the top. (Side note: Jamie Bell is terrific as John’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin.)
Elton’s ascent from shy, repressed Reginald Dwight—the “fat boy from nowhere”—to flamboyant rock star and then his spiral into substance abuse and confusion about his sexuality are well documented. I dare say his story can’t be done justice without over-the-top depictions of pill popping, cocaine snorting and binge drinking. Sanitize that and you’re telling the story you wish Elton’s life was, rather than reality. This is a story of hidden pain that can’t be sugar-coated.
Given that the same person was involved in directing both movies—Dexter Fletcher finished what Bryan Singer started on Bohemian Rhapsody, but did the whole thing on Rocketman—it hardly should be surprising that this movie can’t help but evoke similar feelings. That the subject of the movie is alive to appreciate his story on the big screen might be considered miraculous by some, and Elton himself calls it a “story of redemption,” which is a fair assessment.
Unfortunately, no matter how big a fan of Elton’s you are, the prominent drug usage, coarse language and sexual content pushes this movie beyond the parameters of Dove approval, with no overriding faith or integrity components to provide saving grace.