I want to start this review by stating that this has been one of the hardest reviews I have ever had to write. Not because the film is horrible, nor because of the fear of revealing spoilers. The reason it has been hard for me to review Rocketman is because the film was so emotionally powerful that it rocked my core. I haven’t cried this hard at a film since I saw Titanic for the first time.
When Rocketman was first announced, I was curious to see exactly what it would include when it came to the life of Reginald Kenneth Dwight, aka Elton John. This is a man who is known not only for recording some of the best songs ever made, but for wearing flamboyant stage costumes and a larger-than-life stage presence. He has also had a lot of darkness in his life, regarding his sexuality, inner demons and a short temper. Screenwriter Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher deal with it all head on, and do so in a fantasy setting that creates one of the most colorful musical worlds I have seen since Moulin Rouge.
The story is told within the framing device of the famous incident where Elton John left his concert at Madison Square Garden to check himself into rehab, costume and all. Using this real life event, we get the story of how he got there in flashback form, as viewed through the imagination of Elton John. Yes, the film does get the songs and time periods mixed together. Yes, some truths are stretched. But this is understandable given the fantasy context of the film, which relates John’s life as a tall tale. Like the man himself, this film is here to entertain us, and it succeeds in doing so.
We see how Reginald was a music genius, able to play music from ear the minute he hears it and how he is able to take the words written by Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and form a melody around them in less than 15 minutes. We see how his friendship with Taupin was a strong one, and just how important Taupin was to Elton’s eventual success. We also get to see the energy of John’s concerts and how he literally elevates the crowds around him.
However, we also get to see the dark side of John’s life. We witness how his father (Steven Mackintosh) wanted nothing to do with his son, despite a young Reginald desperately longing for a connection. We see how John’s mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) was supportive, yet ultimately just as cold as his father. We witness how he finally finds love in the form of his business manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), only for Reid to use John both financially and mentally. We see the downward spiral into intense drug and alcohol addiction that almost killed John and witness him attempting to hide his sexuality in a marriage that was doomed to fail. The most deeply emotional moment of the movie, however, comes when John comes out of the closet and we witness his mother’s reaction.
To say the film is an emotional roller coaster is an understatement. The good news is that, like a roller coaster, the scary parts of Rocketman equal the joy inspired by the ride. This is largely due to the performance of Taron Egerton as Elton John. It is one thing for an actor to play a role well in a biopic film. It’s another when they embody the person so well that you forget you’re watching an actor and see the real person. Egerton’s performance is Oscar-caliber, leaving you feeling that you are actually watching Elton John himself tell us his own story.
The movie’s magic is also aided by Egerton’s chemistry with the rest of the cast, especially with his real-life friend Jaime Bell. The professional and personal relationships of Elton John and Bernie Taupin are translated perfectly onto the screen and you can feel the brotherly love between the two of them. The scenes between Egerton and Madden offer authentic sexual chemistry early on, making it easy to see why Elton John fell in love with John Reid and was desperate to hang on to that love despite the abuse.
This is the best biopic I have seen about a musician since What’s Love Got To Do With It. The story and the execution leave you wanting to run home and listen to the Elton John’s music immediately. Egerton does his own singing and does a commendable job emulating Elton John’s spirit – not just his tone. However, the moment he shines the most vocally is the new song Taupin and John wrote for the film, “I’m Gonna Love Me Again.” This song is guaranteed to get an Oscar nomination. Both John and Egerton sing together in perfect harmony and you can see why John chose Egerton to play him.
When you walk out of this film, humming the music and possibly wiping away tears, you will probably find yourself unable to hear certain songs by Elton John the same way again, knowing some of the stories behind them. To me, that strengthens both his musical talents and Rocketman as artistic works. This film is a gift and the perfect thing for kicking off Gay Pride month. Rocketman is a reminder that no matter how dark life gets, it’s not worth ending it all and that you can remain Still Standing. Do NOT miss this one, folks. Seriously.