I can remember my first Elton John album. It was Caribou and it was a Christmas present. A few Christmases later, I got Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The first rock concert I saw was Elton John at Madison Square Garden. The first time I sang in public, it was Elton John’s Your Song. A few decades later, I did a one-man show comprised of Elton John songs.
Among my musical heroes, John is number one after The Beatles. So, given my feelings about him and my expectations for Rocketman, my reaction was somewhat mixed.
Rocketman is like Bohemian Rhapsody, the film to which it will most likely be compared, if Bohemian Rhapsody was directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge); by which I mean, the characters burst into song even when they’re not actual singers performing onstage. I’m probably one of the only gay men who not only didn’t like Moulin Rouge, but thought it was ridiculous. (I don’t think I’ve actually seen the entire movie. If I wanted to see people do cover versions of famous songs, I’d go to a karaoke bar.)
But Rocketman takes more of an impressionistic look at John’s life. The songs are used to emphasize certain emotional beats, rather than to mark certain moments in John’s career. In fact, the songs are often used to illustrate events that took place before the songs were even written, which is kind of confusing.
Having said that, Rocketman’s producers hit the jackpot when they found Taron Egerton. Not only does he look like Elton John (down to his gap-toothed smile), but he can sing!
One of the things this movie does, aside from reminding us of the enormity and brilliance of John’s song catalogue, is to remind us that the young Elton was kind of hot! I don’t think Egerton is quite as chunky as Elton, but no matter.
The movie depicts, with welcome frankness, John’s sexual relationship with his emotionally abusive manager, John Reid (Richard Madden). The portrayal of John’s absent father (Steven Mackintosh) and withholding mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) also helps us understand what shaped John’s personality. So the familiar rock star trajectory of rise to fame, subsequent drug and alcohol abuse and eventual rehabilitation, doesn’t feel like a cliché.
There are certain moments—his Troubadour show, watching him write Your Song, his Dodger Stadium concert—when I actually got goose bumps.
The costumes (designed by Julian Day), which are based on of John’s actual stage costumes (many of which I remember), are also spot on.
At the end of the movie, we’re informed that John is retiring from performing, which is kind of a shock.
Good to know he hasn’t given up his shopping habits.