I spent the better part of Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic Rocketman on the edge of my seat, my senses heightened and the world around me shut out. My body tingled with excitement over Taron Egerton’s performance and Elton John’s wonderful, timeless music filling the theater.
Lee Hall, who shared a Tony nomination with John for their original score to Billy Elliot The Musical, penned the eponymous musician’s story.
Rocketman opens up with Egerton in a full costume as if he’s going on stage, a blinding light behind him creates a halo effect as he rushes toward the camera, only to break into an AA meeting, where he confesses all of his vices. Fletcher and Hall then start us on a backward journey through Elton’s childhood.
Born Reggie Dwight, Rocketman takes us back to his younger days with a mum (Bryce Dallas Howard), who was coldly dispassionate, and an absent dad (Steven Mackintosh) who, before the war, doted on his son. Matthew Illesley plays the younger Reggie with a reserved panache as he sets about a piano and instantly replicates the music he’s just heard.
In between the musical numbers is a deep, trauma of a musician who never had the power to be himself, held back by absent parents through no fault of his own. Enter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). On a chance encounter, the two find one another; Bernie a lyricist and Reggie a musician who couldn’t find the words to match his music.
Fletcher spends a good deal of time in Rocketman building up Reggie’s prodigal nature as a way to define his problems as an adult. Fame and fortune really didn’t get the best of Elton John when he first took off. The performance at the Troubadour in swinging L.A. in the early ’70s really drove home Elton’s ability to draw and entertain a crowd.
The sequence leading up to his performance is full of nerves and humor, a great deal of which is broken up by Tate Donovan’s Doug Weston, the flamboyant manager of the Troubadour.
When he gets on stage, Taron Egerton as Elton John is absolutely magnetic. You can see the power in not only his singing and performing, but in the dramatic flair he adds to make the onscreen character his own.
The Troubadour sequence is also a pivotal moment in the lives of Bernie and John, as well as the introduction to the delicious John Reid, played by Richard Madden, who eventually becomes Elton’s business manager as well as partner.
The relations that Fletcher chose to show are tastefully done and shouldn’t put anyone off. The passion between the two characters and the actors oozes right off the screen.
So too does Elton’s descent into a pit of alcohol and drugs. The drama related to the “rock n’ roll” personae blends into the musical performances and the characters’ antics, so much so that it becomes unambiguous. You still feel the raw emotion from Egerton’s performance as he comes to terms with who he is and his place in the world.
The lyrics to the song this film is named after sum up my feelings about Rocketman.
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Til touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up her alone.”
Rocketman is rated R and is in theaters on Friday, May 31. Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.