Rocketman – An Excellent Addition to the Growing Library of Music Biopics

On the heels of the most successful music biopic of all time (Bohemian Rhapsody) comes Rocketman. Both are stories of gay men growing up in Britain with unsupportive parents, who overcome further obstacles to scale the heights of celebrity and worldwide acclaim. Both share the role of manager John Reid. Both also share front teeth issues.
Rocketman stars Taron Egerton, who was warmly received in his sidekick role in the Kingsman films. The big difference in terms of the music is that Egerton sang the songs, whereas Remi Malik did not sign the Queen songs. Egerton here has a career-defining role. He ably portrays the twists and turns as Reginald Dwight becomes Elton John. The joy of landing in Los Angeles (and seeing Tower Records), the horror of being told his idol Leon Russel is in the audience at The Troubadour as Elton is about to make his debut, the delight as Elton ascends the charts and the crippling effects of addiction coupled with no meaningful love life.
Elton’s parents are well-developed, yet their lack of love throughout Elton’s career is painful to watch. The father only wants his son’s autograph on the debut album to give (sell?) to a co-worker. The mother only hangs around to ask for the check to but a new home in Manorca.
The film takes a generally linear approach, but is essentially bookmarked by Elton’s visit to a twelve step addicts’ meeting. That device allows him to narrate chapters of his life in mostly flashback.
The script cleverly jumbles the timeline of Elton’s discography, dropping in songs where they work to historically move the narrative forward.
Intriguingly, there are at least two references to The Who. In an especially evocative sequence, Elton is performing “Pinball Wizard” as the stage whirls about in an increasingly dizzy merry-go-round. This mirrors Elton’s untethering as fame is heaped on him. In an earlier sequence, Elton is shown moving from childhood to adulthood in a colorful dance sequence to the tune of “Saturday’s Alright for Fighting.” Not only are several Quadrophenia-era GS scooters shown, fans will note the song used for the dance sequence is the one chosen by The Who in the Elton John – Bernie Taupin tribute album Two Rooms.

Dexter Fletcher (Director), Taron Egerton and Rami Malek at the post party for Rocketman at Tavern on the Green, May 29, 2019 in New York (Photo: Dave Allocca/Starpix; used with permission)

Indeed, the film does a superb job describing how the Taupin – Elton pair always deployed two rooms to create their songs. From the pure luck of Reginald/Elton being handed a sealed envelope of lyrics, through the remainder of their long and prosperous career, the pair where never together when the songs were made. Jaime Bell plays Taupin as a character sympathetic to and fully supportive of Elton, even when the latter tries to go it alone and repeatedly eschews Taupin’s helping hand.
My only quibble was the film’s desire to be authentic right down to Elton’s diastema; eventually the filmmakers decided to simply paint the gap on Egerton’s two front teeth and it ends up a distraction.
The most transcendent moment in the film is the Troubadour sequence, when Elton and the audience are rendered weightless via the magic of the music. The film does not end with the same triumphal sequence seen in Bohemian Rhapsody, but Rocketman does finish with perfectly logical “I’m Still Standing.” Elton marches into the French seaside sunshine, looking almost as bright eyed as when we first see him as the young Reginald in Pinner.
Dexter Fletcher had a hand in directing the Queen biopic, but he had full reign with Elton’s story and executed with aplomb.
We are in the midst of an explosion of biopics and documentaries exploring facets of the music business. Rocketman will give the current box office music biopic a run for the money.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.