by David-Elijah Nahmod
Actor Taron Egerton is transformed into gay rock star Elton John in the acclaimed biopic Rocketman, which comes to DVD/Blu-ray after a highly successful theatrical release — the film grossed $187.3 million against a $40 million dollar budget.
Comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody, the film about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, which was released a short time before Rocketman, are inevitable, but the two productions are in fact as different as night and day. While Bohemian Rhapsody largely glosses over Mercury’s homosexuality, Rocketman makes John’s homosexuality a major plot point. Director Dexter Fletcher is not afraid to show John kissing men, or to include a somewhat graphic scene in which John makes love to a man.
Nor does Rocketman avoid John’s battles with alcohol and pills. As the film opens, John, dressed in his full stage regalia — a flaming red devil’s outfit with a huge set of wings — walks into an addiction rehabilitation meeting and announces that he is an addict. His story is then told in flashback as he begins to share with the group.
Viewers are taken back to John’s childhood in England. Born Reginald Dwight, he was, according to the film, raised in a home without love–both of his parents are cold and distant, though he does get affection and support from his grandmother. It’s his grandma who recognizes the boy’s musical genius — she takes him to the Royal Academy Of Music where he displays his uncanny ability to instantly replay a piece of music after hearing it once.
As a young adult, Reginald begins playing in bands. He meets lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), and the two begin collaborating together, very quickly attracting the attention of record executives. Young Reginald, who changes his name to Elton John (he gets Elton from a bandmate and John from The Beatles’ John Lennon) appears to be falling in love with Bernie–he attempts to kiss his friend.
“I love you man, I do,” says Bernie. “But not that way.”
In one of the film’s loveliest moments, John sits down at the piano and plays “Your Song.” their first hit, for the first time, while Bernie stands in the background watching.
“My gift is my song, this one’s for you,” John sings, as he smiles at Bernie. Bernie smiles back.
“Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen,” John continues. “And you can tell everyone that this is your song…”
As they look at each other, it becomes apparent how deeply they love each other, a gay man and a straight man, songwriting partners, best friends, brothers.
Throughout the film, many of their best-known songs are used as metaphors to illustrate what John is feeling at that point in the story, such as the plaintive “Tiny Dancer,” which John sings at a party as he watches Bernie walk off with a young lady. And though Egerton doesn’t quite sound like the real Elton John, he sings beautifully in his own right.
The film also spends a good deal of time dealing with John’s relationship with John Reid (Richard Madden), a music promoter who becomes John’s manager and his lover, and who is eventually revealed to be a cad who manipulates John to further his own career. Madden is quite good in his role as a calculating user who cares for no one but himself.
One of the film’s most moving sequences comes when John, now a world-famous rock star, visits his estranged father and tries to rekindle their relationship. He’s met by a cold, distant man who clearly doesn’t love him and wants little to do with him, though this portrayal of dad has been disputed by John’s half-brother, Geoff Dwight.
With any biographical film, there are bound to be historical inaccuracies, and this is most likely true of Rocketman. But what the film does, and does well, is to capture the essence of who Elton John is. He’s a musical genius who has struggled with his sexuality, (eventually embracing it), struggled with addiction, and struggled to find true love. He’s a complicated man who has lived a very complex life.
Thanks to a fully developed screenplay by Lee Hall, deft direction by Fletcher and a magnificent turn by Egerton in the lead role, Rocketman emerges as a wonderful film, highly enjoyable to watch, intense in parts, and filled with great music. It offers viewers a very clear picture of who Elton John is.