Wearing sequined, pink heart-shaped glasses, and a bright gold, red feathery-winged, big-horned devil costume, Elton John (Taron Edgerton) enters a 12-step AA group-therapy meeting. Someone asks, “How was your day?” “I’m a drug and sex addict,” Elton says, “and I’m here because I want to get better.” “So what were you like as a child?” asks the group’s leader. Elton says, “I was a very happy child,” as the film quickly cuts to 5 year-old Reggie Dwight (Matthew Illesley) and his seriously dysfunctional family. That’s “Rocketman’s” setup, as Elton begins to tell his life story in a series of flashbacks. But “Rocketman” is not a standard Hollywood biopic; it’s a Broadway-style musical, using glitzy hit-song production numbers to move us from one emotional crisis in his life — including attempted suicide — to another.
How does child prodigy Reggie Dwight become Elton John? Can he handle sudden rock super-stardom? Will you be entertained by this heartfelt tribute? I was.
Taron Edgerton is outrageous and compelling as multi-talented Elton John, whose life quest is to discover who he is. “If only I knew how to be Elton John,” he says. Even as shy 5-year-old Reggie Dwight, played sweetly by Matthew Illesley, he says, “I wish I were someone else.” “Don’t be silly,” says grandmother (Gemma Jones). It’s a difficult and hazardous life-long quest that leads, we are told in the end credits, to 28 years of sobriety and a calm, happy domestic life with husband, David, and children. At the emotional heart of “Rocketman” is the platonic relationship between Elton and lyricist, Bernie Taupin, well played by Jamie Bell. They meet as they write “Your Song”: “How wonderful life is when you’re in the world.”
Not so wonderful is Elton’s sexual fixation on his sometime manager, devious John Reid, played by Richard Madden. Or his emotion-free father (Steven Macintosh) and cruel mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), who says to her son, “I should never have had children! Do you know how disappointing it is to be your mother?” Others in the cast include Kit Connor as 17 year-old Reggie, and Stephen Graham as music publisher Dick James.
“Rocketman,” directed by Dexter Fletcher (who had a hand in last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and written by Lee Hall, will not let you go. It’s mesmerizing entertainment. “Based on a true fantasy” is its tag line, undoubtedly correct, as Elton John is one of the film’s producers. His fantasy and his film.
Rated R for pervasive language, drug use and sexuality, “Rocketman” runs 121 minutes.
Elton John’s “Rocketman” —
See it if you are a fan;
If not, you still could go —
Glitzy singing, dancing show.