Elton John (Taron Egerton) enters a support group in full concert attire and begins telling them his long hard story starting with when he was a small child named Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley as a child, then Kit Conner as a teen, and finally Taron Egerton as an adult) living in an unloving home where music was king and he was an unwanted addition. Even being a child musical prodigy who could figure out how to play songs on the piano by hearing them on the radio and being awarded a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music couldn’t get Reggie so much as a hug or words of praise from his parents.
Eventually, Reggie transitioned from classical music to Rock ‘N’ Roll and joined a band, which lead to him becoming a singer and pianist for a record label. There, he changed his name to Elton John, starting putting music to lyrics by his new friend Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and quickly rose to become an international singing sensation. Along the way, Elton struggles with his sexuality, drugs, shopping habits, and overcoming his introvert nature to become the most beloved musicians of all time.
According to the filmmakers behind Rocketman, the film isn’t a biopic. It’s a musical fantasy! As such, there are a few things to note. 1) They took artistic license, which was granted to them by Elton John himself. Many of the songs and events along the timeline of Elton’s life have been rearranged, altered, and in some instances completely fabricated. For instance, that support group scene at the top of this review? They come back to this scene time and time again throughout the film, making it sort of a backbone for the whole story… but in real life it never happened!
2) This isn’t a dramatic film with a bunch of musical performances peppered throughout, like Bohemian Rhapsody. Instead, it’s a full-on musical that utilizes the songs of Elton John much like Across the Universe used the songs of The Beatles. It has more in common with The Greatest Showman than Ray.
These are interesting choices that writer Lee Hall (Victoria & Abdul, War Horse, Billie Elliot) and director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, Bohemian Rhapsody – although he didn’t get screen credit for his contribution) came up with, and many fans have voiced outrage at such changes and depictions. But Elton John signed off on nearly every choice made and was completely behind Taron Egerton’s portrayal of his life… even the fictionalized aspects.
That said, this movie is absolutely stunning. The beautiful look of the film can be attributed to cinematographer George Richmond (Tomb Raider, the Kingsman movies, and Eddie the Eagle). And if costume designer Julian Day (Robin Hood, Bohemian Rhapsody, Terminal) doesn’t get an Oscar nod, it’ll be a disgrace!
Likewise, if the Academy of Motion Pictures doesn’t nominate Taron Egerton for his portrayal of the piano playing rock god, somebody’s doing something wrong. He pulls double duty as he isn’t just acting the part, he does all the singing as well! During the end credits, they show stills of the film side-by-side with the real Elton John in those same performances and I have to say, Taron Egerton looks more like Elton John than Elton does!
The acting by the entire cast is spot on, from leads to minor roles. The music is fantastic (though that probably goes without saying given who the film’s about). The emotional beats are spot on, bringing the audience from happy dancing around moments to sorrowful gut punches.
The only problem I have with this film is the pacing. It’s just over the 2-hour mark, and there were a few times throughout where I checked the time. That’s never a good sign. I could feel the passage of time during certain segments of the film. This could easily have been remedied by trimming even just 15 minutes away, as some scenes go on a bit longer than need be while others are so closely related, they could have been combined.
I’ll also point out there are some similarities between this film and Bohemian Rhapsody that were too pronounced to ignore. For instance, there’s a sequence where Elton is going to clubs and partaking in drug use and orgies… that felt exactly like the same beat in Freddie Mercury’s movie. I get that they had similar experiences (and even shared the same director, albeit briefly), but I wish the filmmakers had taken a different route to convey such a well-worn rock trope.
Those two quibbles aside, Rocketman is a fantastic film that Elton John’s legion of fans are sure to enjoy. However, considering his appeal is multi-generational (especially with the Disney reboot of The Lion King on the horizon), parents should know this film earns its R-rating, mostly due to its depictions of man-on-man sex. Honestly, no authentic portrayal of John could be complete without it, and if you’re forward-thinking enough to be fine with that, you’ll love this film.