Synopsis: How Elton John found fame, got addicted and recovered
Step right up, folks for the story of music legend Sir Elton John. I know, I know, not another musical biopic with the standard scenes of the future star as a young outsider, struggling to make a go of a music career, the genesis of the first hit (“Here’s a little something I’ve been working on…”), heady fame, addiction/illness and triumphant recovery. But we’ve been promised something different, a musical fantasy. In fact, Elton has long wanted to make a “musical movie. Like Evita, but with good music.”
As I suspected, Rocketman does hit all of the familiar bases, but the movie rewards us with musical fantasy numbers featuring songs from EJ’s huge catalog. Be advised that your enjoyment of the film will be enhanced if NOTHING is more important to you than Elton’s acceptance and celebration of self. Elton and husband David Furnish are producers of the film, so if screenwriter Lee Hall or director Dexter Fletcher displeased His Majesty, they would’ve been told to f%&* right off, I’m certain. At least by Elton.
When Elton begins his trip down memory lane, we see him as a musically precocious little imp, enduring a bastardly father and selfish mother with only his gentle Gran cheering him on. Before long, he has grown into Taron Egerton (thankfully escaped from the wholly unwelcome Robin Hood), aggressively dancing all over what looks like a set from Grease Live while belting out “Saturday Night’s Alright.”
Cinephiles, let our crush on Taron Egerton commence. Elton John is on record stating that he’d like Justin Timberlake to play him, as he did in the 2001 music video “That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore.” But with JT’s music and tequila empire, he’s a very busy man. (Also he would’ve needed some CGI to pull off young Elton, as the former Mouseketeer is nearly forty.) And I was thinking –although they didn’t ask me– that Joseph Gordon Levitt could pull it off. O, wait… JGL is JT’s age. It’s just as well because Taron Egerton crushes it; bringing equal parts exhilaration and pathos to the role. While not an Elton doppelganger, he is a handsome avatar. When Elton met Taron on the set of Kingsman: The Golden Circle (sounds like a fancy condom brand) and spoke with him after the young actor’s wedding scene, his future boss told him, “If I were five years younger, it would be me you were marrying now.” Cheeky? Creepy? Anyway, he’s a fine looking man and director Dexter Fletcher loves the close-up face fetishizing. I found myself mesmerized by the geometry of Taron’s jaw; Closer, Dexter, closer.
Besides the music, we are treated to a cavalcade of Elton’s glasses and outfits. My faves: the pink heart glasses and Queen Elizabeth I costume. Taron also rocks the hell out of Elton’s famous glittery LA Dodgers’ kit during the Rocket Man sequence.
Rocketman doesn’t give short shrift to Elton’s collaborator, lyricist Bernie Taupin. He’s ably portrayed by Jaime Bell as a steadying force and loyal friend. But Bernie may be a bit mad, based on his lyrics anyway. Many modern songwriters fixate on love and rebellion, but not Bernie. He pays tribute to the hardworking men and women of NASA. He reflects on work-life balance in the song “Rocket Man”: Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, In fact, it’s cold as hell. He’s so right, Mars has no Wi-Fi and an average temperature of 81 degrees below zero.
Rocketman the movie walks us through Elton’s trials and tribulations… Elton is high as a kite on fame and fortune while dating his manager, John Reid. Reid is portrayed by Richard Madden (Robb Stark in Game of Thrones & the Prince in Cinderella) as a sexy Mephistopheles. EJ & JR’s characters share a steamy sex scene; good on them. It’s about time that same-sex passion gets some non-exploitive screen time.
The movie also reminds us that Sir Elton is a great songwriter and pianist; good for him. We get to enjoy the faux genesis of “Your Song” as EJ inspects Bernie’s lyrics for the first time, sitting at an old piano in his mum’s house. As he gets going with the melody, the few people in the house– mum, Gran & Bernie– become still, knowing that something special is happening. Rocketman takes poetic license with song origins, often highlighting them in trippy shadow boxes come to life. My fave follows Elton singing “Tiny Dancer” as he wends through a late night LA party that has spilled outdoors among trees and fairy lights.
But I wish the movie had displayed more of his tantrums and bitchy remarks to up the realism. And our enjoyment. So much to choose from…like when he tells the paps to f%&* off. (Well, can’t blame him there.) Or when he screams at techs during concerts. He’s so professional about it though, playing the piano without missing a beat and only hurling invectives in between verses.
Oh, and the feuds! The best is his feud with Madonna. It all started at the Q Awards when EJ took issue with Madonna winning Best Live Act because she lipsynchs. “Madonna winning best live act? F%&* off.” Brilliant! Later he observed that Madge looked like a “fairground stripper.” Genius!
There’s a fashion feud too…when designers Dolce & Gabbana made negative remarks about same-sex parents, Sir Elton called for a boycott. Alas, he broke it himself hours later. But he has done so much good, raising millions through his Elton John AIDS Foundation. I think even Ellen DeGeneres has forgiven him for snapping, “Shut up already, we know you’re gay.”
Just one more feud… While Elton recognizes that he was in a feud with Madonna (even recently, EJ informed us that she has “…been so horrible to Gaga.”), he explains he wasn’t feuding with Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards, “I just think he’s an a#^hole.” Yeah, he probably is. Still, it would’ve been more English of Sir Elton to call him an f%&*ing a#^hole. For more of Elton’s antics and bon mots, watch Tantrums and Tiaras filmed by his husband David Furnish with whom, btw, he has two lovely children. Both of whom are godmothered by Lady Gaga.
In conclusion, music and movie fans, I will tell you, in the parlance of Elton John: Go see the f%&*ing movie. It’s better than Bohemian Rhapsody.
MovieLoon.Blog Movie Overview:
Cut to the Chase: Breakthrough performance of Taron Egerton as Elton John. Wading through some formula, but the music is worth it.
Humor Highlight: Bryce Dallas Howard playing against type* as Elton’s selfish, chilly mother. She’s always dressed to the nines and ready to dress down anyone. Including her son. But there’s a nice tension watching her performance because I bet IRL she is really nice. *O, wait… I forgot she was a racist –and a snob! — in The Help.