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While still enjoying the film Bohemian Rhapsody at the theater, the preview of an upcoming movie intrigued me as well.
Another music biopic, Rocketman tells singer Elton John’s story. Every time I saw the preview, I felt drawn to this powerful film.
Rocketman stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, Rocketman carries an R rating for moderate language, the portrayal of drug and alcohol use and moderate sexuality. It has a run time of 2 hours and 1 minute.
The Early Years
The film alternates between the present day, where Elton John (Egerton) appears to be in a group counseling session, and the past. The story is woven together as the present day singer recounts his childhood and rise to stardom.
Born Reginald Dwight, Reggie (Illesley) is a quiet child raised by troubled parents. His mostly absent father, Stanley (Mackintosh), passes his appreciation of music on to his young son. However, he cannot connect with Reggie emotionally. In fact, he refuses to hug his son or express love in any way.
Reggie’s mother Sheila (Howard) is cold, distant and as hungry as her son, for love. She seeks affection outside her home, which ultimately destroys the marriage. The real champion in the lonely boy’s life is his grandmother (Jones). When Reggie shows musical talent, she encourages him to play the piano and to pursue his passion.
Reggie’s desire to play and sing leads him to the Royal Academy of Music. As he enters his teen years (Connor), he begins performing in local pubs and forms a band called Bluesology.
Elton John is Born
As a young adult, Reggie and Bluesology are hired as a backup band for an American jazz band touring England. One of the singers gives the serious young man advice, to become famous: change his name, write his own songs, “kill” the old Reggie and become the person he is meant to be.
Inspired, Reggie adopts the name Elton John. He shares a few early songs with a studio, receiving moderate praise and interest. He acquires a manager who partners him with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Bell). The two become best friends and collaborators. Bernie writes song lyrics while Elton produces the melodies.
Their song, Your Song, lands them a performance at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Elton overcomes a major case of the nerves to give an exceptional performance that ignites the audience and captures the attention of manager John Reid (Madden).
The Rise and Fall of a Rocketman
As Elton attempts to shed his old persona, and become a showman, his manager John shifts from showing romantic interest in the performer to openly manipulating him.
Once again denied the love that he craves, Elton throws himself into his performances. His costumes become more and more outlandish, to the delight of his audiences. In front of a crowd Elton is all smiles and brilliant show. Behind the scenes, his pain and loneliness drive him to drugs, alcohol and anger.
His long time friend and musical partner leaves. Elton truly finds himself alone and depressed, in the midst of incredible fame, and fortune, and people who want from him but have nothing to offer in return.
The past and the present day at last align, as Elton concludes his story. Realizing his life is spiraling downward, he walks away from a sold out concert and seeks help.
Can his career survive, he wonders, if he is sober and clean and more…ordinary?
My Thoughts on Rocketman
Rocketman is a beautiful, clever musical, skillfully weaving Elton’s songs throughout the movie. They tell his story in illuminating ways, showing snapshots of who he was at different times in his life.
I’ve long been a fan of Elton John. His songs are an integral part of my storyline. Hearing them I can recount the events in my own life as his tunes topped the charts. I know his songs. However, the film taught me a great deal that I did not know about the man.
Elton’s story is overshadowed with sadness. It’s difficult for me to understand how love can be withheld from a child. In my heart it feels so wrong. And yet, it is possible that Elton’s early years birthed more than an extraordinary performer who wowed audiences. His pain gave incredible depth to his music. He truly is a musical genius. And although I teared up many times during this film, I experienced a deep appreciation for the way that he endured as he sought to be who he is.
The end credits are worth staying for. Actual photos and text tell the rest of Elton’s story, bringing us to the actual present day.
The tagline for Rocketman is an apt one.
“The only way to tell his story is to live his fantasy.”
What a moving way to get to know the heart of this man.
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