Rocketman | Third Space


The musical re-imagining of Elton John
Thu 19 Sep 2019

2.5 out of 5 stars

Taron Egerton has had a meteoric experience over the past five years. His breakout role in the Kingsman franchise, showcasing the depth of his acting in Eddie the Eagle and then having his animated debut in Sing proved that this actor has vocals chops, too. In this last film, he sang Elton John’s classic, I’m Still Standing, then went on to star in the second instalment of the Kingsman films with the rock icon, which solidified his choice to be the lead in Rocketman.

This project has been in consideration for two decades and with the announcement of Edgerton in the title role, it was not too hard to convince Dexter Fletcher (Bohemian Rhapsody) to sign on to direct. He had the privilege of directing Edgerton in Eddie the Eagle. The question would be whether the director would stay to the sanitised style of Queen’s biopic or would he be given allowances to portray the actual rock and roll lifestyle of Elton John? With the iconic pianist as a producer and adviser to the project, Fletcher delivers a very different film that is more reminiscent of a rock opera than a run-of-the-mill biopic.

It opens with the rock star entering a group therapy session for addicts, where he begins to let people in on his story. As Reginald Dwight, he journeys back to his life in the suburbs of England and his eventual admission to the Royal Academy of Music. During his time of classical training, he was introduced to Elvis Presley and the world of rock and roll. Despite having little support from his family, he continued to pursue a career in the music industry and attempted to discover his own style and sound. His manager introduces him to lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) who would go on to become his long-time collaborator and wrote the words for most of Elton’s biggest hits.

Their careers would begin to move in fast-forward after the release of their first album and they find themselves in the United States where the music takes a life of its own through John’s magnetic performances. This was the time that led to the artist’s introduction to the infamous talent manager John Reid (Richard Madden), who would also be connected with Queen. He became Elton John’s business manager and lover, even though the latter role eventually fades, the savvy businessman remained on to manage the artist until 1998. With the fame and money came the trappings of this world and the legendary performer eventually became dependent on alcohol, drugs and sex to help him to go on stage and even to live.

Expressed with the same over-the-top flair of Elton John, this biographical journey is told through a series of flashbacks and is delivered through dream-like musical performances that connect all the iconic tunes. Dexter Fletcher incorporates the devastating impact of a life of extreme opposites. A constant battle between the pain and rejection of his family life is weighed against his ability to express himself artistically. The underpinnings of this internal struggle of this artist helped to explain his fall into addiction and self-loathing.

Taron Egerton proves that he is an exceptional talent with his ability to convincingly portray the artist through the various stages of Elton's life and confidently sing the songs that will be familiar to multiple generations. Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard and Richard Madden do add their talents to the whole ride, but this is ultimately Egerton’s movie.

Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, this screenplay does not shy away from the artist’s homosexuality. As an icon and outspoken advocate within this realm, Elton does not hold back on the highs and lows that he experienced in identifying as being gay in the 1960s and 1970s. As he worked through this exploration of his identity, the film is able to show how this was expressed in his lifestyle and music. Nothing is held back in the aspect of his life which ranged from the loss of his virginity to the artistic portrayal of the sexual revolution with a musical depiction of an orgy.

Even though the majority of the songs will be familiar to multiple generations, Rocketman is not a sing-along film for the family to go along to and enjoy the decades of music together. This is an artistic and unapologetic depiction of the life of this celebrated and flamboyant artist with a ready-made soundtrack to support his life. This film is for those who want to see the nastier side of the industry and how it almost destroyed this world-renowned talent. The music does add the salve to sooth the pain of his life, but does not mask the vicious side of this industry and psychological wounds that Elton John must still endure. No holding anything back in the biographical sketch of Elton John, this film is designed and intended for a mature audience only.

REEL DIALOGUE: Why do we care about the lives of musicians?

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language. Herbie Hancock

What is it about music that permeates the soul? It is central to most cultures and celebrated in the Bible, but if it becomes an obsession, it can destroy lives. Where does the power of music find its origins? What does God have to say about the work of music in our lives?

Passages on music: Psalm 104:33, Psalm 95:1, Psalm 105: 2, Psalm 150, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, James 5:13