Scott, it’s time for a review – are you ready to rock it, man?
You betcha, Gregger. Let’s go down this Yellowbrick Road, shall we?
Like a phoenix, Elton John (Taron Egerton) bursts into a counselling session wearing a flame-red costume including expansive wings and announces to the group: “I am an alcoholic, and a sex addict, and a drug abuser…” Which begins a series of flashbacks that tell the tale of how Reginald Dwight became the international superstar Elton Hercules John.
We learn that Reginald was raised by two unloving parents but had a grandmother who recognized his talent and went out of her way to make sure he received musical training. Reginald joins a rock band, changes his name to Elton, and meets songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) who is willing to give Elton lyrics for his songs. The result is magic and Elton John becomes a superstar, although along the way he begins to self-destruct.
Scott, Rocketman is an amazing tribute to perhaps the most unique talent ever to grace the rock-n-roll charts. However, it is not the biopic I was expecting. Make no mistake, Rocketman is a great achievement. Many have compared it to last 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody – with most favoring Rocketman. As you may recall from our review of the former, Scott, I was not impressed with Bohemian Rhapsody as it had a lightweight script that was very family friendly. Rocketman makes no such mistake.
I loved Taron Egerton as he seemed born to play Elton John. We’ve reviewed several Egerton films over the years (Eddie the Eagle, Kingsman 1 & 2). But Egerton seemingly melts into Elton John’s personna to the point that I forgot that was an actor, not the famous musician on-screen. Egerton mimicked John’s speech, his looks, even his mannerisms. I have to wonder if he’s had any other affinity for the rock star as Elton John had a cameo in Kingsman 2.
The whole movie feels very dreamlike and more like a musical or stage play than a proper biopic. We flit back and forth between Elton John in his rehab counselling meetings and the progression of him as a boy, then a young man meeting Bernie Taupin (his lyricist), then his emergence as a rock star, and his falling into alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction.
But this is the problem that I had with Rocketman. It played very fast and loose with the details of John’s life. Songs that were not written or even conceived of were used in musical numbers early in the film (eg: the boy Elton John sings and dances to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” as a montage for him to grow into a young man). For fans of the star, some of the chronology seemed out of order and entire swaths of John’s life were skipped over (in particular the “Tin Pan Alley” days where Taupin and John wrote pop standards for the likes of Roger Cook and Lulu. For me, this makes Rocketman more a musical “inspired by the life of Elton John” and less a proper biopic.
Greg, you’re right that Rocketman comes across as a surreal dreamlike montage more than a biographical piece. I believe that this creative approach to portraying Elton John’s life is high effective and injects a lot of joy and spice into the life of this fascinating singer.
The most common theme in literature and in film is the theme of one’s “search for self.” This premise jumps out at us big-time in Rocketman. Our hero starts out as Reginald Dwight, a talented yet insecure young man who decided that he must become something and someone he is not if he is to succeed as a songwriter. Soon he realizes that a name change isn’t enough. He gradually adopts elaborate costuming and outrageous frames for his glasses. Because he isn’t happy with himself, he begins poisoning himself with drugs and alcohol. Elton even finds a lover who is as emotionally unavailable as his parents, which exacerbates his addictions. Eventually he discovers he’s okay with exactly who he is, but not until he endures great pain and suffering.
When it comes to showcasing the hero’s journey, I can’t think of a better movie than Rocketman. Elton casts himself on the journey in seeking to become a rock star. While his mission on the surface is to achieve stardom, his true mission — which he is unaware of — is to discover his True Self. Elton’s failed relationship reopens wounds from his childhood and he turns to drugs to relieve his pain. He eventually hits “rock bottom”, forcing him to either confront his demons or die. With help from friends, such as Bernie Taupin, Elton finally becomes comfortable in his own skin. This script follows Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero to a T.
Rocketman is not the biopic I was hoping for – but it is a fitting tribute to one of the most amazing talents of a generation. I fully expect to see this translated to the big stage as a musical (much as we’ve seen for such films as Mama Mia). And this also fits into a trend of recycling the Baby Boomer generation of music for a younger audience (witness Mama Mia, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the upcoming Yesterday where a young man wakes up in a world where Lennon and McCartney never started the Beatles and he remembers and records all their songs). I give Rocketman 4 out of 5 Reels.
As a heroic figure, Elton John doesn’t get any better. He has a missing inner quality of wanting to be loved. He looks for that love on stage and behind the stage. Regardless of his successes, he never achieves that love until he finally crashes and learns to love himself. While Elton John doesn’t have all the qualities of a great hero, he does “bring home the boon” to his tribe in a way that perhaps no one else has. I give Elton John 4 out of 5 Heroes.
I think the message of this film is – you must first learn to love yourself – as you are – before you can give love to anyone else. This is a common message (remember last April’s Isn’t it Romantic) for movies. But Rocketman delivers this message through song and artful presentation that transcends the usual fare. The scene at the end where a boy-Elton looks to adult-Elton and asks for a hug, which adult-Elton gives with warmth and joy delivers such a powerful invocation of this message that I award Rocketman 5 out of 5 Message points.
Rocketman is one of the most innovative biographical treatments of a musician that we’ve ever seen in the movies. You’re right, Greg, that Taron Egerton was born to play the role of Elton John, and while his singing does not approach that of Elton, it’s still a striking and memorable performance. I believe this film deserves awards for direction and musical score. I give Rocketman 4 Reels out of 5.
This movie is the most perfect depiction of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey that one could possibly concoct. All the classic elements stand out in bold relief – the departure, the initiation, the villains, the helpers, the heroic transformation, and the gift back to society. For this reason I give our hero Elton the full 5 Hero points out of 5.
There is really a terrific and important message that this film gives us. The message is the cautionary tale of not looking outside yourself for happiness. People turn to food, drugs, sex, gambling, etc., to fill a hole in their souls that cannot be filled with material things. We are all enough. And you’re right, Greg – the scene of adult Elton hugging kid Elton packs a big emotional punch. Self-acceptance and self-respect are so important to our well-being. I give this movie 5 Message points out of 5.