The fantastical life and career of Elton John are told in Rocketman. As a child, Reginald Dwight (Taron Egerton) gained an interest in playing music, which was supported by his grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones), tolerated by his apathetic mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), and all but ignored by his unloving father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh). As a young musician, Reginald adopts the stage name Elton John and begins to collaborate with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who Elton soon begins to treat as the brother he never had. Elton’s early performances attract the attention of John Reid (Richard Madden), who becomes both Elton’s manager and lover. However, as Elton John becomes a bigger success, he begins a downward spiral of substance abuse.
Rocketman is a biopic from director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith, Eddie the Eagle), which takes a fantastical approach to telling the story of the first two decades or so of Elton John’s career. The film takes a somewhat non-chronological approach to the musician’s story, which is framed from the point-of-view of Elton John in rehab. This includes a number of fantasy-filled musical sequences, as the characters sing various songs from Elton John’s vast catalog.
Due to their close proximity to each other, Rocketman is sure to elicit comparisons to the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, particular since Dexter Fletcher was brought on board to finish the latter, following the firing of Bryan Singer. However, Rocketman has much more in common with jukebox musicals, such as 2007’s Across the Universe and Fletcher’s own Sunshine on Leith. As such, the film is less a straightforward biopic and more fantastical interpretation of events in Elton John’s life and career, with key moments being narrated by the lyrics of his songs. It is also notable that Taron Egerton does all his own singing in the movie, with the other key cast members, such as Jamie Bell and Bryce Dallas Howard, occasionally joining in.
While the combination of musical and fantasy makes Rocketman a relatively lighthearted viewing experience, the film also chooses not to sugarcoat Elton John’s homosexuality and substance abuse. In addition to Elton John’s personal demons, the film creates a de facto antagonist out of Elton John’s manager and one-time lover John Reid, who is portrayed as caring more about the money Elton John generates than the musician’s personal well-being. Then there’s Bryce Dallas Howard has Elton John’s mother Sheila, who is portrayed as someone who does not care about her son’s homosexuality, while also telling him that it would lead to a life of loneliness.
Altogether, I would say that the fantastical approach of Rocketman is probably the best way to tell the story of Elton John’s career. While it may not cover every detail with 100% accuracy, it is still a quite enjoyable viewing experience, with a great lead performance by Taron Egerton.