Updated: May 1, 2021
Elton John. He is one of the most fabulous rock stars of all time, and I’ve always had a soft spot for him. I first got a taste of his music through The Lion King, and from there, I learned more about the rest of his classic songs and enjoyed them like there was no tomorrow.
With Rocketman, now I got to see in cinematic form how he became the rock star that he is.
Elton John, then known as Reginald 'Reggie' Dwight when he was a kid, developed a love for music when he perused through his parents’ record collection, especially when not dealing with family dilemmas concerning his parents. Then, he established a supreme talent for music, especially on the piano, and after starting as a back-up singer for touring American bands, he changed his name to Elton John and formed a musician-lyricist partnership with Bernie Taupin. However, his road to fame took some rocky turns once he met his manager and lover, John Reid. From there, Elton John went through the ups and downs of his life as a musician and as a human being, and at the height of his career, he turned towards drugs, sex, and alcohol as a means to destress himself, not realizing that this was taking a heavier toll on him than he ever needed.
There are easily so many things that I like about this movie, but the one thing I’ll start with that stood out the most were the performances and the relationships stemming from them.
Richard Madden from Game of Thrones did a fine job conveying the charisma and occasional underhandedness of Elton John‘s employer, John Reid. He always looked like he knew his way around the music business, while his cockiness often clashed with Elton John’s more conscientious and/or conflicted nature.
Speaking of conscientious, Jamie Bell expressed such similar mannerisms as Bernie, Elton John’s longtime partner and friend. His empathy for Elton, and his desperation to see him straighten himself out at the crucibles of his fame, made Bernie look like the shoulder to cry on that Elton so needed during his all-time lows.
Bryce Dallas Howard was a charmer as Elton John's mother, Sheila. Her slight sarcasm went in sync with her sometimes indifferent, sometimes caring attitude. One scene I remembered that, in my opinion, summed up her character was when Elton spoke with her on the phone and came out to her as gay. She gave an unexpectedly mellow response that I would paraphrase as:
I always knew that. Just keep it to yourself.
Stephen Mackintosh gave an astounding performance as Elton's father, Stanley. He emphasized the sternness of his character, as well as the snobbiness that was subject to multiple clashes with Sheila, and even with Elton. One scene I remembered that was disheartening was when Elton John, now a superstar, visited him and met his two new sons, or, in Elton's case, his two half-brothers. When Stanley asked Elton to autograph a record, Elton was just about to write it to him only to be reminded that it was for a coworker of Stanley's who was a big fan of Elton John's music. Talk about daddy issues!
Ultimately, as fantastic as the actors were in this picture, the one element that binds everything about it together was Taron Engleton as Elton John.
Close to being of English descent himself, just like Elton John, Engleton shone in his many different impersonations of Elton's character. He was flamboyant, he was stern, he was outrageous, he was passionate, and better still, he had a wonderful singing voice fit for the legendary singer. He oozed with all of his characteristics while spicing them up with a sense of potency that added weight to his character’s music and dilemmas. The end result was an acting powerhouse that provided the movie's heart, soul, drama, and sense of magic.
Another aspect of his character in the movie that was stunning was the costumes. I always knew that Elton John was a superstar in music, but I never thought that he was such a fashionista on the side as well. I can see that this added a level of liveliness to his character, as well as his performances. And while some of them did deter a bit from how they looked in the actual performances, they still looked just magnificent. Clearly, Julian Day must’ve done his research in making the costumes as outlandish, detailed and authentic as possible, and it shows.
When I first heard about the movie, I knew going in that it was going to be both a musical fantasy and a biopic, despite Engleton insisting that it was a musical fantasy instead of a biopic. While it still had elements of a biopic, such as how Elton John came to be, how he wrote his songs, etc., I was fascinated by the movie’s musical fantasy elements, even if they made this movie feel more or less like a jukebox musical. As I, the viewer, watched Elton John's growth and rise to superstardom unfold before my eyes, its bits and pieces were sandwiched inbetween renditions of Elton John‘s classic songs by the characters. And even then, those were done very well; the singing and choreography were superb, and they actually boosted the emotional aspects of the present situations as they occurred in that moment. Being a musical aficionado, I never minded it in the slightest.
The next interesting part of the movie was the story’s sense of authenticity. Since Elton John executive-produced the movie, I knew that he somehow gave the movie some kind of approval. As I did more research on him and his life after watching the movie, however, I became more impressed to see that the movie really captured the spirit of Elton John and his life. Even the fantastical elements of the movie, to Elton, at least, felt somewhat accurate. As he said about writing songs that left an impact on people:
...when it happened, it went off like a missile: there’s a moment in Rocketman when I’m playing onstage in the Troubadour club in LA and everything in the room starts levitating, me included, and honestly, that’s what it felt like.
While the songs, as they played out in the movie, were technically out of order, and yes, the movie took a few creative liberties with the story – click on these stories if you want to know more about them – Elton John ultimately liked the movie because of how much of a warts-and-all portrayal of his life it was; nothing about him was sugarcoated here. And if that wasn’t enough, some of the events that occurred in the movie really were accurate, including:
'Reggie Dwight’s' rough family upbringing at his house in Pinner Hill Road with his mother’s general indifference and his father’s sternness and temper.
Reggie's grandmother, Ivy, supporting his musical pursuits, as well as his studies at the Royal Academy of music.
John Reid pulling Elton John out of virginity with sex, the portrayal of which was revolutionary for a major Hollywood movie.
The quickness of Elton John’s conceptualization of his songs, as shown with his creation of “Your Song” while at his parents’ house with Bernie.
Elton John suffering from bulimia and his urge to destress himself with sex, drugs, and alcohol.
Elton John ultimately going to rehab, complete with Bernie visiting him.
In fact, when Elton John saw the first and last of these depictions on the big screen, they left him bawling like a baby, they were so on point.
When his partner, Bernie, learned about the movie, he was hesitant about its potential because of the seemingly-misplaced fantastical elements. When he finally saw it, however, he, too, was moved by it, and warmed up to it rather quickly. The way I see it, those were signs of a good biopic; when the real life figures that the movie was about enjoyed it as much as everyone else did for how well it captured their life stories.
Like I said, Rocketman was so many things. It was magical, it was lively, it was honest, it was extravagant, and its collective portrayal of Elton John in all his ups and downs were right on target. Even its portrayals of his sex life and his more outrageous tendencies were really bold, and they added a juicy edge to an already engaging method of storytelling.
Accuracy quibbles aside, Rocketman lifted off and soared to the skies in spectacular fashion.
Something I found interesting as I did my research on Elton John was that, at first, he was hesitant to have a movie made about him. He was more into what to aim for in the future instead of looking back on his past. However, when he and his husband, David Furnish, had their sons, Zachary and Elijah, this had him thinking about the possibility of his sons getting to have a glimpse of his life, say, "40 years into the future". That, and his Las Vegas show in 2004, The Red Violin, was an early contributor in planting the seeds for a movie to be made about him.
There was one way Elton John contributed to the movie that I thought was a little funny; he refrained from having any involvement in the production, and instead asked David to investigate it for him. As he put it, "I figured it would be uncomfortable for everyone to have the person the film was about lurking around."
Chow, Andrew R., and Suyin Haynes. “The True Story Behind the Movie Rocketman.” Time, 31 May 2019, https://time.com/5598236/rocketman-true-story-elton-john/.
John, Elton. “Elton John: 'They Wanted to Tone Down the Sex and Drugs. But I Haven’t Led a PG-13 Life'.” The Guardian, 26 May 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/may/26/elton-john-in-my-own-words-exclusive-my-life-and-making-rocketman.
Weintraub, Steve 'Frosty'. “Taron Egerton Says ‘Rocketman’ Is a ‘Fantasy Musical,’ Not a Biopic.” Collider, 2 May 2018, https://collider.com/taron-egerton-interview-rocketman-robin-hood/.