Rocketman (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on June 2, 2019 @

Rocketman is a rocking figment of imagination. It's one of those movies where you have to suspend your disbelief.

Elton John and the filmmakers refer to Rocketman as a "musical fantasy." That form allows them to put actuality through the lens of fantasy - what comes out is more invention than the actual Elton John. Of course, the real Elton John invented himself, except he did a better job of it.

Director Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall have concocted a mélange that is entertaining, if not always credible. They've thrown songs against the screen to see what sticks.

They've made up motivations behind some songs, rearranged the times they were composed, and created a tornado of effects. Rocketman is levitating and submerging.

One of the questionable inventions is the framing, where a resplendent Elton John tells all during a group therapy session. It strikes me as being as awkward as the original framing that director Billy Wilder did in Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which the tale was told in a morgue with eight people. But preview audiences laughed and so Wilder cut it.

Fletcher sticks to the contrived setting of the confessing.

Throughout the film, contrivance battles with substance. When Elton (Reggie Dwight) tells his mum on the phone that he is gay, his mother and stepfather are watching Liberace on the telly. Are you serious?

Much of Rocketman seems like a preparation for a stage musical. And there is precedent for that. On May 12, 2005 Billy Elliot the Musical had its world premiere at the Victoria Palace in London. It went on to have a production on Broadway at the imperial Theatre in November 13, 2008, and won 10 Tony awards. Elton John wrote the music, Lee Hall - who wrote the screenplay for Billy Elliot - wrote the lyrics, and Roger Daltry who directed the movie Billy Elliot also directed the musical on stage.

And Jamie Bell, an underrated actor, who played 11-year old Billy also is in Rocketman, as Elton John's lyricist and friend Bernie Taupin. [One might want to see Bell's outstanding performance opposite Annette Bening in the hardly ever seen film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (2017).]

Despite the gaudiness and flamboyance, Rocketman is surprisingly conventional. A misunderstood youth, an unhappy mother, a strict, dismissive father, a whirlwind success story, a struggle with sexuality, betrayal, and an inevitable fall into drugs and alcohol are not given much originality in Rocketman.

Rocketman generally takes the safe route, to assure commerciality, which wasn't the actual route Reggie Dwight (E.J.) took.

Taron Egerton gives a yeomanly performance as Dwight/Elton. Jamie Bell is solid as Bernie Taupin. Is it possible that Ron Howard's daughter Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elton John's mother. How time rockets.

Richard Madden, who was the moral hero in BBC's Bodyguard (2018), is not typecast. He portrays John Reid, Elton's unscrupulous manager and lover.

Director Dexter Fletcher is on a roll. He finished directing Bohemian Rhapsody, when Bryan Singer was let go.

Bohemian Rhapsody brought Freddie Mercury back from the dead.

We are fortunate that Elton John still is living and performing. In the movie he may not be as substantial as we want.

But in concert, he still is.

His spirit in the flesh soars.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin