With Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard. Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley as younger versions of Elton.
The movie starts with the superstar entering rehab dressed in an outlandish red costume with cape, horns, and glasses in the shape of hearts. Elton John is there to come clean, to get sober. All the other people in rehab are window dressing for one crazy famous person to spill his guts. Eventually, after the sturm and drang of Elton’s life has been spilled, we come back to the rehab scene, and learn that he stayed clean after that until now.
Rocket Man recounts Elton John’s aka Reginald Dwight’s sad childhood, his horrible parents that includes a withholding dad and mean mother, and several other less than understanding people in his life.
According to the movie, he did however have a lovely grandmother who always encouraged him.
He had an extraordinary ear for music. After listening to a woman rehearse at the Royal Academy of Music, he simply played back what he had just heard. She had expected him to bring his own music to audition for the school, but since he didn’t know, he played up to what he had heard, stopping when she stopped, a perfect mimic.
The movie brings alive the development of Elton’s musicianship once he meets Bernie Taupin, the wordsmith to his tunes. The meshing of the two sensibilities works from the beginning. John can invent the tunes and then belt them out. Under management of a harsh music producer who only wants a song from them that old geezers can remember, the sudden hit arrives, and soon there are tours, invitations to the States, and record contracts.
John’s homosexuality is the cause of some of his most excruciating pain, especially with regard to his parents. The most tender moments occur between Taupin and John who truly love each other as brothers, and show it again and again. The erotic love between men is not as successful. We don’t get to see who John marries happily until the afterword when the filmmakers show two tiny tots they have decided to raise.
The movie is a recovery nightmare. People never loved him who should have, he was betrayed and neglected and not treated as he should have been, but his career sustained him. John was just a shy guy who didn’t even want to go on stage at first, and became the source of income for those who eventually leeched from him, and in the case of John Reid, one of his managers and lovers, perhaps stole from him.
The treatment of music is ambitious, yet not always successful. When the four members of his family all sing about wanting to be loved, there is a poignancy just shy of soap opera. The whirlwind tours that exhibit the flamboyant costumes John preferred actually can make you dizzy. Always in the background is Bernie Taupin asking why don’t you just be you.
Their friendship holds the movie together. The early days were best, showing how some brilliant artists peak early. John and Taupin were thrown together by a music producer and bonded over singing the song “The Streets of Laredo.” Sometimes loving the same song is enough. Or having Jamie Bell, a brilliant actor, appear as the one person who did not betray John.