The life story of Reginald Kenneth Dwight, more commonly known as Elton John, has finally received the big screen treatment in the musical-drama biopic Rocketman. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, Rocketman stars Taron Egerton as Elton John and follows the musician’s life as a prodigy through the peaks and lows of his legendary career.
This review is written from the perspective from someone that didn’t have much familiarity with Elton John or his music going into Rocketman. The only thing I knew of Elton John before going into this film is that he’s an English rock musician but I wouldn’t be able to name five of his songs without doing some research. With all that said, let’s get into this review.
3 Phases of Elton
Rocketman opens up with an adult Elton John (Taron Egerton) checking himself into rehab and sharing stories about his life and what has led up to this moment. Elton was wearing a colorful sequence, a bright orange devil suit, that looked like he just got done performing from somewhere. Don’t let the bright outfit fool you, the star of this film is depressed, and says he’s a coke addict, alcoholic, bulimic among other things and he’s on the verge of a breakdown but he has a story to tell.
Flashback to a young Sir Hercules Elton John as a child, known at the time as Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley). Reginald’s mother discovered that he was a musical prodigy and with support from his grandmother he was enrolled into musical classes. Reggie is so advanced at a young age that he can listen to music being played and play it back.
With his father stationed away on military duties, a young Reggie wants to impress him by playing some tunes upon his return, but his father has no interest in listening to young Reginald play.
Teenage Reginald(Kit Connor) is inspired by the flash and pizzaz of popular acts in the United States and gets his haircut like Elvis Presley. There is a lot of development within Reginald’s childhood and troubled homelife that sets up the events of the rest of the film. After looking at dresses in a magazine his father scolds him for doing so and that’s the most interaction they have with each other. His father doesn’t care about him, his mother is cold-hearted towards him and the only family member that has any care for him is his grandmother.
From Kingsman to Rocketman
After another musical number, the film transitions from his early life as Reginald to young adult life as a struggling singer in the group Bluesology. Reginald is still in the closet, he’s dating one of Bluesology band members until the band decides to breakup and everyone goes their separate ways.
In the film, Reginald takes his Elton John stage name by using the first names of Bluesology member Elton Dean, and John Lennon of The Beatles. In typical Hollywood fashion, when Elton says his last name is John, he looks at a picture of John Lennon on the wall, which is something that’s overdone in films at this point.
Taron Egerton does a fantastic job as Elton John. He looks like him, and he has singing chops which the film never feels like it’s forcing its musical elements. The younger actors that played Elton also bare resemblance to the lead character in real life, Taron Egerton which makes the film feel like we’re watching someone’s memories.
Egerton gets to show off his singing chops throughout the film, here’s his performance of the song the film is titled after:
In Rocketman, Elton’s life was filled with more downs than a failed space mission, but the highlight is his relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Taupin would go on to be Elton’s longtime collaborator for nearly 50 years and they are still friends to this day.
Elton John considers Bernie Taupin as a brother that he never had. The pair have some falling out because Elton’s success and ego made him big headed but Taupin never stops supporting him. Their friendship felt genuine throughout the film.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy said there was no place like home but for Elton John, home is not a place that he has the slightest admiration for. His parents and his long-time manager are the proverbial Wicked Witch of the East on his path to the yellow brick road of success. His mother Sheila (Rose Dallas Howard) is portrayed as this cruel cold-hearted monster and his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) might as well have been missing because he’s barely there for him.
There’s a powerful scene where Elton finally decides to come out of the closet to his mother and instead of supporting his decision, she lets him know that nobody will ever love him. When he tries to tell his father, his dad does not care at all. His dad asked for an autograph so he could give it to a coworker. The film does at making the audience feel emotions for Elton John, but it doesn’t stop with his parents, because other confidants don’t care about the musician.
If Bernie Taupin was the person that Elton John could rely on then his manager John Reid (Richard Madden) is the antithesis of that. Not only was John Reid Elton John’s manager but he was also Elton’s lover and their relationship was abusive. Reid, who was also the manager for Queen, would physically assault John whenever the pair would get into an argument.
The rockstar lifestyle hits Elton hard and he’s at his lowest of lows and Reid could not care at all. After an argument he lets Elton know the game, if Elton kills himself then John Reid will continue to make money long after the Rocketman is in his grave. This scene puts the despicability of Reid on full display and he’s painted in a completely different picture than he was in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Throughout Rocketman there is a collection of musical numbers that break up the drama and the costume designs during those scenes are creative and visually impressive. The only issue with these musical numbers is that at times they take away from the story of the film which causes the film to feel like a fantasy musical instead of a biographical picture. With everyone treating Elton terribly, things do become formulaic: REPEAT (musical number) x (drama) x (abuse) = woe is me.
That formula is what kept me from loving this movie but I did enjoy it. The performances by Taron Egerton and Bryce Dallas Howard were the standouts in this one. Egerton was the perfect casting as Elton John and his name will definitely be up for a nomination for Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards. If only we could’ve got that cameo appearance from a certain singer. Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance because her character was evil but her screen presence made you want to watch more of her. The little looks and quirks that she would give while scolding Elton added a lot to her character besides “wicked-evil Mother.”
Rocketman is a spectacle of a film about a musician whose talent exceeds the atmosphere of Earth, yet those earthly vices caused Elton John some turbulence that he never let get the best of him.
[All Mames Wey]
Rocketman was released in theaters May 31, 2019.
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