The story of music icon Elton John graced the silver screen in “Rocketman,” a movie that took almost two decades to make.
It released on May 31, 2019 and is a fantastic look into the life, times and fantasy of the best character from “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.”
Directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton as Sir Elton, the film chronicles the singer’s life from his time as a child in England, to his musical super-stardom and the struggles it brought, all the way to his fall from grace and stint in rehab.
It’s a bit strange because the film plays around with historical accuracies in John’s life, especially the chronological order of events. This has been compounded with the fact that the film is marketed as a musical fantasy, showing that the meddling of facts was intentional.
The film features several songs that are played out of order from when they were composed. It completely ignores John’s first engagement to Linda Woodrow in the late 60’s as well.
In addition, the film ends with John in rehab and finally reuniting with songwriting collaborator Bernie Taupin after a long falling out, and wraps a nice little bow on the story.
This ignores the fact that John didn’t enter rehab until 1990, or that “I’m Still Standing,” the triumphant number that closes the film, was already released in 1983 and that John and Taupin’s falling out only lasted from 1977 to 1979.
This is the Elton John biopic that the artist wanted you to see, told in the way that he remembers it, and I can appreciate that it owns up to this in its marketing.
So for that reason, I won’t doc any points from it, especially because the changes made do enhance the story the film is trying to tell, and the execution of this story is well done.
In addition, this allows the filmmakers to be very creative with set pieces and the visuals that go along with the memorable catalog of the “Rocket Man.”
“Bennie and the Jets” becomes a drug trip orgy hallucination, “Rocket Man” is about the highs that fame and substance abuse John deals with, and the painful fall from that high and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is the basis of the back and forth arguing between John and Taupin.
Rather than just playing the songs straight like a documentary, Fletcher takes advantage of the enigmatic personality and gripping story of John to make every musical number an important part of the plot.
Yet the songs and theatrics would mean nothing without a great story and strong performances. Egerton shines as John and does an exemplary job singing his iconic tunes.
Jamie Bell is solid as Taupin and captures the bromance between him and John well. Richard Madden shines as John Reid, Elton’s abusive manager and former lover.
As mentioned before, the story is a look at John’s life, told by him during his rehab stint. He goes through it all, including a troubled upbringing with a self-absorbed mother and a cold, distant father.
He joins a band and earns some small time fame. Following this, he realizes to succeed he needs to change his looks, get a new name and start writing his own songs.
He meets Taupin, and rides the gravy train, with tunes like “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Border Song” propelling the duo to super-stardom, and all of the pitfalls that come with it.
John spirals into depression and becomes addicted to everything under the sun, including sex, alcohol and cannabis.
In the end, after attempting suicide at a house party and later suffering a heart attack, John no-shows a performance in New York to run away and go to rehab.
He reunites with Taupin, finds inner peace and triumphantly returns to the charts with the song “I’m Still Standing,” supplemented with footage of the actual video. The screen then fades to black and shows a few slides detailing where John is now.
It’s a heartwarming story that is elevated by some truly great renditions of John’s classic tunes by Egerton moving the plot forward. Visually, the film is a lot of fun to look at, as it is rich and colorful, yet dark and serious when it needs to be.
For those reasons, I think it’s more enjoyable than a lot of other music biopics since this one doesn’t just feel like an expanded episode of “Behind the Music,” with big-name actors playing the roles of the musicians in a cut and dry retelling of familiar events.
If you are at all a fan of music movies, Elton John or rock and roll, check this one out.