“Rocketman,” the musical-fantasy-biopic of British pop music virtuoso Elton John, is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking. Despite the well-known nature of his trials and tribulations on and off-stage, the movie keeps audiences engaged through a smooth weave of iconic songs into critical points in Elton John’s personal and professional development. What seems like an entertaining musical in the beginning, quickly evolves into a meaningful and heartfelt story of the rise and near-collapse of a pop icon.
The movie begins with Elton John’s heartbreaking origins growing up in a working-class section of the town of Pinner in Southeast England. Isolation from his detached father and free-spirit mother eventually leads him to music. At first, the film feels like a more conventional musical, mixing well-known songs penned by Elton John and his long-time co-writer Bernie Taupin with critical events in his upbringing and personal development. As the movie unfolds, however, these events (and the meaning behind the lyrics) reveal themselves as part of a well-scripted story that is tightly written and intentional. The fantasy elements bring audiences into the emotional and personal world of a young man increasingly estranged from his parents and doubts about his own self worth, even has he shows a remarkable aptitude for songwriting, voice interpretation, and musicianship.
The movie is boosted in no small part by an Oscar-caliber performance by Taron Egerton (from the “Kingsman” action movies) who also sings most of the tracks. Indeed, “Rocketman” may well be a break-out role for Egerton, establishing him has a highly versatile actor willing to take on bold roles. The movie is so well scripted and directed, I didn’t find any scene gratuitous, including what is apparently the first gay-male sex scene in a major Hollywood movie (although this is scene is tame by contemporary standards). This polished result is a tribute to screenwriter Lee Hall as well as director Dexter Fletcher (Bohemian Rhapsody).
Notably, “Rocketman” was produced by Elton John and his husband David Furnish. While the movie clearly reflects Elton John’s perspective, the story is reflective and doesn’t shy away from his severe and prolonged battles with addiction, the dysfunctional effects resulting from the relentless pressure to perform on a world stage, his struggles with his own sexual identity, or how his behaviors and choices fractured critical relationships. The screenplay’s vulnerability is a tribute to Elton John, deepens the story, and elevates the messages he clearly hopes his current, more balanced approach to life can convey.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin fans will find a lot to enjoy in “Rocketman.” But they will also come away with new interpretations, or appreciations, of their talent, their songs, and the meanings behind the lyrics.
Strong performances, a tightly written screenplay, and topflight directing and editing will likely keep “Rocketman” in contention for major awards despite its relatively early release in the year.
Update 6/20/2019: Check out the Facebook review: 4,093 people reached, 588 engagements, 397 reactions, 21 comments, and 35 shares.