“It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside...I'm not one of those who could easily hide.”
Elton John produced this rock biopic, and his music shines brilliantly throughout. Taron Egerton turns in a masterful performance as the mercurial pianist with a flamboyance to match his prodigious talent.
“Don't go breakin' my heart.” Director Dexter Fletcher takes us all the way back to when Elton grew up as Reginald Dwight, a little kid who could hear a tune on the radio and immediately pick it out on the piano. For a while, he was classically trained, but as a teenager he was wowed by early Rock N' Roll, starting with Elvis.
“Saturday Night's Alright For Fightin'.” Little Reginald, by this account, had an emotionally empty childhood. His father seemed to have no feelings at all, except when he was fighting with his wife. He left to go raise another family, and little Reginald yearned in vain for his approval and affection. The little musical number they perform as a family is as halting and sad as the characters.
“He's a pinball wizard, there has to be a twist.” Reginald's mother, Sheila, wasn't any better. She's portrayed, by Bryce Dallas Howard, as a self-absorbed, aloof woman who seemed to be devoid of any tender maternal feelings. She takes up with another man, but seems to be oblivious to her son's obvious musical talent, as if it doesn't affect her. And that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“I hope you don't mind, if I put down in words...how wonderful life is when you're in the world.” It doesn't take long for Reginald, now in his late teens, to make a name for himself, playing in local pubs. But he's mostly playing covers. The music comes easier for him than the words. But then he meets Bernie Taupin, a lyricist without a composer, and they click immediately. Bernie writes the words, and Elton looks at them and comes up with the music. It's a magical partnership.
“When your feet just can't keep still...I never knew me a better time, and I guess I never will.” Bernie (played to low-key perfection by Jamie Bell) is content to be in the background, letting Elton John, as he now calls himself, take over the spotlight. Bernie is also well aware of that his friend Elton is gay, but it doesn't bother Bernie, who's straight. In the 1970's, though, society wasn't always as understanding and accepting of Elton's blatant sexuality. When he took up with businessman Richard Madden (John Reid), who became his agent, Elton began turning his back on some people who had helped him through the early years. Bernie even leaves for a while, though they both claim there was never any rancor between them.
“What I really mean is those are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen.” Now comes the hard to watch part, as Elton flares into superstardom, he also sinks deeper into alcohol, drugs, and depression. When he told his Mother he's gay, she replies, “Oh, I've known that for a long time. But deciding on it will only mean you'll never be loved properly.” And that, too, became a self-fulfilling prophecy. A series of affairs, culminating in a sham marriage, leaves Elton feeling empty, despite his incredible success. He finally crashes and winds up in rehab.
“I'm growing tired, and time stands still before me.” The movie ends with Elton “finding himself” again, but it's only in the closing credits that we learn he's happily married now, and is busy fathering two adopted sons with his husband. Oh, and Director Fletcher also delights in showing us how close the movie's visuals are to the “real” characters.
“Oh it seems to me...sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Overall, there's probably too much about the loveless childhood and not enough fun concert footage, but “Rocketman” is still a musical delight and an energetic, wildly entertaining biopic of the singer who became a legend in his own time.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association