‘Rocketman’ review: The glamorous and heartbreaking life of Elton John

With its highly imaginative direction and Taron Egerton’s magnetic performance, ‘Rocketman’ finishes on a high note.

It’s impossible not to think of Bohemian Rhapsody while watching Rocketman. Not to mention the fact that Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher himself assumed directing duties after Bryan Singer’s untimely exit while shooting Bohemian Rhapsody, both musical biopics feature flamboyant, gay pop-rock icons who reinvented themselves amidst adversity.

Rocketman, however, has a surefire edge over the other as Taron Egerton here does his own singing. We first heard him spectacularly perform an Elton John classic in Dreamworks’ Sing, and that credential alone suggests that he might have the vocal chops to do the rest of his jukebox. And he does not disappoint. Egerton may not exactly look or sound like Elton, but he channels the superstar’s flair and vibe with such authenticity that goes beyond an impersonation. Donned with signature over-the-top costumes, he successfully puts on a fearless and electrifying show. If Rami Malek can win an Academy Award for his work in Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s only righteous to start the Oscar hype as early as now for Taron Egerton.

“…how wonderful life is when you’re in the world.”
Taron Egerton as Elton John performs ‘Your Song.’

Both movies pretty much follow a standard template for musical biopics – a calculated yet effective retelling of the rise, the fall and the rebirth of an icon, accompanied by a wheelhouse of greatest hits. In Rocketman, piano prodigy Reginald Kenneth Dwight (Elton’s birth name) meets an aspiring lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and together, they produce a number of hits that skyrockets Elton’s hollywood career to superstardom. The costs of fame soon catches up and he falls into an abyss of depression and various addictions – shopping, alcohol, painkillers and even sex. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody is on a disadvantage for being confined to a PG-13 setting, Rocketman greatly benefits from its R-rating as it avoids sugarcoating the edgy chapters in Elton’s extravagant and promiscuous lifestyle.

But what makes Rocketman truly soar is Fletcher’s assured and adventurous direction that deftly weaves fantasy elements into Elton’s trajectory. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, the film disregards the chronological release of his songs and goes for a full-blown musical: the characters break out in songs and dances whenever the narrative calls for it. Given the eccentric nature of its protagonist, it’s quite easy to suspend disbelief and allow the film to take us to wherever it wants to go.

Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin) and Taron Egerton bring warmth and sincerity to their friendship in ‘Rocketman.’

Musical scorer Matthew Margeson brings new arrangements to some of Elton’s songs and in doing so, the film produces multiple music genres that bear wide range of emotions. An energetic “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” marks Elton’s rebellious transition from childhood to young adult. The “Crocodile Rock” performance – where gravity cease to exist for a moment and the crowd starts floating – represents an insurmountable joy during Elton’s music career. “Bennie and the Jets” is played with an increasingly aggressive tempo to portray his psychedelic descent to rock bottom. The highly imaginative sequence of “Rocketman” is presented as an accompaniment to Elton’s suicide attempt and desire to leave the spotlight.

The film also shines with its slow ballads like the iconic “Tiny Dancer” being reinterpreted as a song about longing and unrequited love; an intimate “Your Song” that brings earnestness to the film’s core friendship; and an emotional duet of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that reflects Elton and Bernie’s anger and disappointment at each other. It’s an epic celebration of the superstar’s enduring legacy and Elton’s spirit is very much alive throughout.

A rising star. Elton John performs “The Crocodile” in Troubadour, London.

At times, Rocketman feels like a Broadway production, where its pompous musical numbers occasionally outweigh the introspective drama involved. But thankfully, Fletcher takes us back to a third act where film’s cliché narrative setup – a frustrated Elton recounts his life during a therapy session – finally pays off as he confronts his inner demons. It’s in this moment when the pieces fall together and we understand the complexities of the character. Here is a son who poses a peculiar persona in a subconscious attempt to gain the affections of his uncaring father (Steven Mackintosh) and promiscuous mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). A performer who took risks in the music industry because his dashing yet devious manager/lover (Richard Madden) urges him to leave a mark in the world. A gay man whose told to be choosing a life of loneliness because of his decision to embrace his sexuality. A star who succumbs to self-destruction after failing to earn the validation of the people who mattered to him. And finally, a flawed human who decides to turn his life around with the help of his loyal best friend.

Livin’ the high life? Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila) and Richard Madden (John Reid) in ‘Rocketman.’

With all the entertainment that Rocketman offers in its great performances and splendid production design, there lies an incredibly relatable tale of unconditional friendship, atonement, freedom and self-actualization. It’s only fitting that the film ends with the song “I’m Still Standing” to cap off Elton John’s moment of redemption. This can be your song too, and you can tell everybody.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, ‘Rocketman’ stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Jason Pennycooke, Kit Connor, Matthew Illesley, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh, and Tom Bennett. 121 minutes. R-13.

Jamie Bell plays Elton John’s best friend in ‘Rocketman’

The songwriting team of Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin is one of the most enduring, successful and beloved creative partnerships in music history.  This unique relationship is celebrated in Paramount Pictures’ critically acclaimed musical, Rocketman.  British actor Jamie Bell plays Bernie Taupin opposite Taron Egerton’s Elton John.

“What they have between them is kind of a beautiful, harmonious marriage, lightning in a bottle,” explains Bell. “In the film we see them meet, and they’re kind of two loners, who find each other and form a friendship that lasts a lifetime.”

And to think, it was a friendship that very nearly never happened in the first place. As Rocketman  documents, the meeting between the two men who have dominated the music charts for six decades happened entirely by chance.

“Bernie was only 17 or 18 when he met Elton,” says Bell of the moment that would change the course of music history forever. “Bernie had become a bit of a juvenile delinquent and ended up becoming a chicken farmer and saw no way out. He felt trapped. He saw this music advertisement and replied to it with something like, ‘I’m a poet and have some lyrics, if you are interested.’ There is even some lore that he didn’t send the letter; he might have put it in the bin and his mum picked it out of the bin and mailed it, or he left it on the mantle and she mailed it, something like that. But the bigger idea is that there was this good fortune for both Bernie and for Elton of quite randomly finding someone that understands you, who gets you.”

That understanding is not just what has kept the pair together, but what has kept one of them alive. “Bernie has always been this rock to Elton, because he was someone who always knew who he was,” says Bell. “Whereas Elton was someone who was really trying to grab onto something, some identity or person or persona, or some love or career or drugs or whatever. Bernie represented this steadfastness. ‘I know who I am and, I am your friend.’”

To play the lyricist, Bell began by telephoning the real Taupin, to introduce himself. Taupin invited him over to his house for dinner. “It’s the right thing to do when you are playing someone (real), to make contact and say, ‘This is what I intend to do.’ I drove up to see him in Santa Barbara. He was very generous with his time. Back then, in reality, they were writing number one album after number one album – I think they had three in a row, which had never been done before, was never even heard of in their time. Bernie had his pressures and his demons too, but I think that knowing who you are inside makes it easier to deal with. Bernie would say that Elton was his best friend, the loveliest guy in the world, but could also be the devil incarnate at times.”

That intimate understanding of their relationship served Bell well throughout the course of making a movie that saw him stretch himself more than ever before. In a performance that, just like Egerton, sees him not just act but sing too, it’s Bell who performs ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ – a song he recorded at Abbey Road – for a scene that captures a moment in which the creative partnership came very close to ending.

“The amount of inner turmoil Elton has had to live with throughout his life makes things incredibly challenging for him,” says Bell. “So, to have someone like Bernie, who’s just present and consistent, is everything. The way that Elton talks about Bernie is so loving. The bond is very profound. It’s well documented that Elton once kind of made a fleeting pass at Bernie, and Bernie was like, ‘I love you, but that’s not going to happen.’ What I love about Bernie is that Bernie doesn’t judge. He accepts Elton for who he is. And even when Elton gets bigger and bigger, with the costumes and all that, he tells him that he doesn’t have to. He really believes in Elton’s ability. And when Elton sings at that piano, he gives people all this joy, and Bernie gets that. In the film, Bernie is always trying to course correct Elton back to the simple thing. That’s why he has always been so important.”

In Philippine cinemas June 19, Rocketman is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #RocketmanMovie  

About “Rocketman”

Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film follows the fantastical journey of  transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John.

This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.