Rocketman: Celebrating Elton John’s Life, Thus Far

Rocketman, the musical movie telling his remarkable life story, co-produced by his husband David Furnish and by him, received its world premiere in front of a rapturous black-tied audience.

To paraphrase the song he composed for Disney’s The Lion King, he certainly felt the love last night.

If any of this also felt like the fulfilment of a boyhood dream, then the boy raised in semi-detached Middlesex suburbia must have dreamed big.

Rocketman boasts a commanding lead performance from Taron Egerton, who’s 29, that with some luck, should land him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

The movie, as expected, is visually spectacular (more about the flamboyant costumes later), and musically exciting (all these wonderful tunes), but it is also emotionally touching I at least half a dozen moments.

 

Despite dealing with issues of coming out and drug addiction, the movie comes across as joyous, enjoyable, extremely optimistic and upbeat experience.

I have reservations about the rather conventional narrative structure, especially the framing device–a group therapy session–which allows Elton to look back on his life from the time he was Reginald Kenneth Dwight all the way to his becoming the world famous musician Elton Hercules John.

The young Reggie, a lavishly skilled boy, was starved of affection by his stern and remote father (Steven Mackintosh), and did not receive much attention from his flighty mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) either.  The warmest family member is his sensitive and loving grandmother (Gemma Jones).  She is the one who first detects his talent and also the one who takes him to school–the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), no less.

Elton was sporting his signature heart-shaped glasses and a jacket, with ‘Rocketman’ spelled out on the back of it  in what looked like rhinestones.

) – when watching his life story felt almost presumptuous, like a rude intrusion into private anguish.

But even though it pulls no punches about his reliance on drugs and booze, his bulimia, his sometimes bad behavior, much of it caused by agonies over his sexuality, Rocketman is a hugely exhilarating picture.

You could argue that the picture is, at least occasionally, too whimsical, too fantastical, too excessive, but it never crosses into bad taste.  Some camp is evident, but no vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake.

The director is Dexter Fletcher, whose credits include the recent movie about Freddie Mercury and Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

For tales of wildly charismatic music stars who rose to fame in the Seventies, he’s become the go-to man.
Despite its enormous success, however, I thought Bohemian Rhapsody a pretty mediocre piece of film-making. It was also a standard biopic.

This intoxicating musical found creative ways into using Elton’s songs (convincingly sung by Egerton) to convey the thrilling ups and precipitous downs of his life.

You really can’t compare it with Bohemian Rhapsody. Rocketman is on a different planet. Some of the song-and-dance routines take the breath away.

There’s a glorious performance of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, evoking his teenage years in Pinner, and a surreal sequence set to Rocketman itself when Elton overdoses during a party at his huge and lavish Los Angeles estate house.

We get glimpses into his meteoric rise, and then his famous 1970 concerts at the Troubadour club in West Hollywood, which made him a star in America.

There, in an inspired flight of fancy, he and the audience start levitating while he performs Crocodile Rock.

It is at the Troubadour that he meets the man destined to become his manager and lover, John Reid (Richard Madden). There has been much talk about a sex scene between the two of them, but let’s just say it’s all perfectly in context.

Soon, the manipulative, promiscuous Reid has squeezed out Elton’s original manager, Dick James (Stephen Graham), and has become more responsible than anyone for Elton’s descent into personal hell.

The only person who shows him unconditional loyalty and support is his long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, delightfully played by Jamie Bell.

Almost 20 years have passed, incidentally, since Bell made a name for himself in Billy Elliot. That film was scripted by Lee Hall, who is also the writer of this one.

It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal what the last of them is. Yes, whatever you think of Sir Elton John, Rocketman unashamedly invites us to celebrate the fact that he’s still standing.

Rocketman hits theaters in the US on Memorial Day Weekend, May 24.