Rocketman soars with fantasy and music

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. A smooth weave of iconic songs transition the audience into critical points in Elton John’s personal and professional development. What seems like at first an entertaining musical evolves quickly into a meaningful and heartfelt story of the rise and near-collapse of a pop icon.

Elton John’s heartbreaking upbringing

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 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) fully reveal themselves. They are part of a well-scripted, tightly written, and intentional story.

The fantasy elements bring audiences into the emotional and personal world of a young man increasingly estranged from his parents and has doubts about his own self worth. At the same time, he shows a remarkable aptitude for songwriting, voice interpretation, and musicianship.

Oscar-caliber performances

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. He is clearly 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).

A reflective story

Notably, Rocketman was produced by Elton John and his husband David Furnish.

While the movie clearly reflects Elton John’s point of view, the story is reflective and doesn’t shy away from his travails. John grappled with severe and prolonged battles with addiction, the dysfunctional effects of the relentless pressure to perform on a world stage, and sexual identity. The movie is also forthright in how John’s 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.

New appreciation for a difficult life

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 put Rocketman in contention for major awards despite its relatively early release in the year.

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Author: SR Staley
SR Staley has one more than 11 literary awards for his fiction and nonfiction writing. He is on the full-time faculty of the College and Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University as well as a film critic and research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. His award-winning Pirate of Panther Bay series ( has won awards in historical fiction, mainstream & literary fiction, young adult fiction, and reached the finals in women's fiction. His most recent book is "The Beatles and Economics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution" due out in April 2020 (Routledge).