Taron Egerton is outstanding as Sir Elton John, and it’s likely to be a long time before another musical biopic touches director Dexter Fletcher’s deliriously fantastical film.
The movie’s portrayal of John’s life, from child prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music through to his crucial and long-term songwriting partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), is entertaining, sparkling and sequined.
Fletcher was called in to complete the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody after the original director was fired, and comparisons will inevitably be made between the two movies about rock stars tilting at windmills and initially hiding their homosexuality. Rocketman, however, is a quite different film – it shies away from nothing, blending John’s discography and ostentatious whimsy into an extraordinary tapestry.
The film is predominately a flashback. The opening scene sees John suffering a midlife crisis: dressed as a horned, sparkly demon, he slams open the doors of a rehab group therapy session. Then he announces that he is Elton Hercules John, admits he is an alcoholic, and divulges a list of vices that include being addicted to cocaine, prescription drugs and sex; he’s also a shopaholic.
From there, the script by Lee Hall (Victoria & Abdul, War Horse, Billy Elliot) goes beyond the yellow brick road in a series of fanciful reminiscences in the form of montages and vignettes. These cover his family life, friendships, and the fortunes and misfortunes of fame.
The story – overseen by Elton John and his husband David Furnish – travels back to John’s dysfunctional and affection-deprived childhood and the beginning of his metamorphosis from plain and shy Reginald Dwight into the dazzling Captain Fantastic.
As might be expected in a spangled musical, everybody in the pub, fairground, concert hall and even underwater exuberantly bursts into song, and that’s part of the fun. Essentially, though, Rocketman is a celebration of John’s relationship with Taupin, their music, and the success of an extraordinary showman who defied stereotypes to become one of the most treasured entertainers in music history.