I can see the call sheet for auditions now: Must look vaguely like Elton John. Also, must be able to sustain an unhappy-to-miserable look for months on end.
Rocketman is a paean to the sad life of the world famous rock star Elton John, who was Reginald Dwight until he needed a better stage name. Beginning in his childhood in a typical English neighborhood, young Reginald was a good kid with an immense innate talent for the piano which his mother aided because it made her look good and honked off the dad. Even then, life was a series of upsets and snubs by his horrible parents, though grandmother openly adored him. This aspect of the story hit me as a bit of juvenile snark against people who are no longer able to tell their side, but later reading confirmed he and his mother had a strained relationship. Saint Reginald’s narcissistic mother and massively cold fish father couldn’t contain his genius, though, and after a few years knocking around in a juke joint he had enough experience to strike out as a singer songwriter with his collaborator for life, Bernie Taupin.
Beginning with the story of his youth, the soundtrack is packed full of one Elton John hit after another, themed to match whatever story point is playing at the moment and fitting the timeline. Knowing he has turned out so many songs that are all so familiar is one thing, but hearing one after another after another brings an astonishing awareness of just how massive his body of work is. It’s a good thing there are so many because there is a lot of story told. After the fuller, longer, traditionally structured scenes of His Awful Youth, the scenes detailing his growing career begin to get a little shorter and then a little shorter still. By the time his life is shown flying through life high on whatever drugs were at hand that morning, and how hateful his mother and his manager were to him, the scenes become increasingly wacky and hallucinogenic, like an Alan Moore Swamp thing comic, and increasingly shorter until they’re skipping through events like a rock skipping over water.
A framing device helps the audience sort out the story by giving Elton a chance to fill in the blanks with exposition, and to aide the perception of time passing. At the very beginning of the film, he bursts into a drug addiction meeting dressed in a flamboyant red devil suit. Each time the film goes back to his exposition scenes at the meeting, he loses another bit of the outfit time until it’s gone, and he looks progressively haggard. It’s clever and well done, and probably the most subtle thing in the film.
Rocketman is well written, with a surprisingly easy to follow timeline and story, considering how bizarre the story becomes as it develops, and with call backs to major points. The acting is solid throughout, the cinematography becomes bold and colorful in sync with his life, and man that soundtrack is really awesome. The only things I didn’t like about the movie was how he never seems to be given any happy moments at all after a certain point in the film, and how his life was Elton Against A Horrid World Out To Get Him. I liked it enough to recommend it, though I can’t guarantee how true the story is.
Rocketman – Official Movie Site
Rocketman (2019) – Official Trailer – Paramount Pictures
CFR: In Addition: Mildred Rules.