I might as well tell you now, this is one of those coming-of-age and aging-big biography movies that, like A Beautiful Mind, chronicles years of a man in just two hours. We first meet Reginald Dwight, I mean Elton John, not before he made up that name for himself, but way after, him on an indistinguishable runway, turning out to actually be a hallway. He finds himself in a meeting with a dozen people in boring suits and boring clipboards whereas he’s dressed like he’s making up for half a dozen missed childhood Halloweens, as a phoenix on fire looking for an exquisite bar with beer to extinguish his flaming feathers. Then we transition to him as a small boy, playing the piano and loving all the possible composures he can craft in his imagination and then bring to life with his hands. But his father asks him to stop playing with his hands at the dinner table, dismissive of every thing he does. His mother, at least, isn’t, and during a possible tryout for a prestigious music school, he overhears his teacher playing the piano for herself, and he then copies her despite having no music sheet around, and stops at the same note she stopped when he got her attention. Before anyone knows it, Reggie has a spiffer haircut, plays the piano for late-night restaurants, and is singing and dancing with the crowd as he turns into his teen self (Taron Egerton, who ends up playing more than a couple time periods of the character. More than several, even.) He meets a music writer named Bernie (Jamie Bell, who looks simply stunning in long, black hair yet retaining his likable, innocent self) who has the words but not the style of the proper notes for his lyrics. But Reggie does. They form a team that soon dominates the world so much that the world ends up dominating them back.
This is the Strange Magic of biography movies, transforming itself into a dream every time a song belts out, with choreography that’s sometimes literally impossible. I think what they were going for was to create subtext, or sub-visuals, for the songs, showing how we feel when we, or at least rock concert fans, have a close encounter with music and their stars.
I also wasn’t expecting the LGBTQ theme. I would’ve been prepared if I knew my Elton John history better. Elton realizes this in his 20s and he continually has to try to come to grips with it, because remember, he was born in the 1940s and back then homosexuality was seen as an abnormality pretty much everywhere. This scares him, not because he’s worried about discrimination worldwide but discrimination from the people he personally knows, as well as what this means for searching for love, searching for what will make him happy. We also see him have to drink his way through ginormous concerts that happened this same way in real life, giving Egerton a chance to attempt a genuine smile in the mirror for one of my favourite scenes. Yeah, Taron Egerton was definitely meant to play the early Elton John. He’s really worked hard to get the early Hollywood spotlight he’s received.
I was considering a B+ for a fair portion of this movie, but the quality noticeably dips as the climax approaches. Repetition ends up noticeable, a song belting out every two minutes in exchange for a thorough thought process. Sometimes the fantasies during one of these musical numbers are poorly timed, negating most of the emotions in the crisis John is going through. And John has to battle demons that end up more noticeably predictable, where we can tell John is simply scared to put his fame under his friends because of how imbalanced he’d be if something very bad were to happen to his money, so he keeps up his fantasy dreamlife until the bubble bursts. John’s manager is on the phone saying he’ll die if he doesn’t take the time to rest, but John returns anyway. We didn’t get to find out why or how he was persuaded exactly. I also wish we get to see a proper closure of his manager, something to satisfy us as the audience knowing that his ideals about only caring about money are wrong, and we don’t quite get a good enough one. There’s a span of four significant years that only goes for about three minutes, but the way the movie was already set up, despite the fact we wished for more, it had to be dismissive. There was no other way.
However, I left the movie feeling like I had a very good look into what behind the scenes can be really like for celebrities under intense pressure. I almost felt like the constant songs were battered into Elton John’s head because of the loud noise at the concerts, having to keep constantly playing them and playing them and playing them until it ends up poisonous white noise to him. There are people in the world living like this that could learn a lot from this film.
I also left the movie thinking about the inevitable final biography closing text, and wishing I got to see a little more of that rather than all the repetitive breakouts. Rocketman will most likely delight a fair few of Elton John and musical performing arts fans, and whether or not you are, Taron Egerton is brilliant in the titular role, but not if you don’t like those crowded musicals like Moulin Rouge that never seem to catch a break with the tunes...Yeah, I was at a Foofighters concert once, and I got very hungry after two hours, and then they said it would be their last song, then another, then another two, then another one...and my empty stomach growled at them. I later learned that's how concerts tend to work. Maybe that slightly annoying experience explains my distrust of these kinds of films and my generally minority opinion.