In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Put another dime in the jukebox

Taron Egerton in Rocketman

Rocketman

Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell

Directed by: Dexter Fletcher

Rated: R

 

Coincidences abound in this fantastical take on the meteoric rise of Elton John despite his many personal struggles. Director Dexter Fletcher recently stepped in to finish “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for which Rami Malek just won the Oscar for his portrayal of another flamboyant rocker, Freddie Mercury. 

 Jamie Bell, who plays John’s lifelong writing partner and best friend Bernie Taupin in this, was also the Broadway star of “Billie Elliot,” the story of a young boy who finds solace in dance after the death of his mother, with music written by Elton John. 

 So there is a thread running through this that only succeeds in making it a better movie than it probably has a right to be. Not that is isn’t great, but some will be disappointed that their favorite songs barely appear only to fade away before the big finish, and there are huge gaps in John’s life that are only touched upon. Still it earns kudos for its resistance in taking the most conventional path.

 This is quasi-chronological and mostly accurate as it begins in Middlesex, England where little Reginald Dwight is leading a sorry childhood with a viper of a mother (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and a not very fatherly father (Steven Mackintosh). They bicker and fight and belittle little Reggie and it’s only his Nan (Gemma Jones) that realizes he might be special when he picks out a classical piece on the family piano after hearing it once on the radio. After that it’s off to the Royal Academy of Music for the little prodigy until he discovers rock and roll is more fun to play. 

 John’s songs appear and seem to take wing to illustrate certain milestones in his life. They are not used in the order they were hits and merely move the story along here. For instance, the opening has a stage-costumed John walking into a group therapy session in a rehab, which leads to flashbacks to his childhood where “The Bitch is Back” is used to stage a full-on dance number in front of his childhood house as film desaturation is used to give it a nostalgic feeling. 

 As adult Elton John, Taron Egerton is fantastic. He gained a little weight for John’s always soft, slightly pudgy self and with thinning hair and the gazillion pairs of glasses the entertainer is famous for the look is complete. Not to mention Egerton captures many of John’s mannerisms. 

 It is well documented that John had numerous issues with addiction including alcohol, cocaine, pharmaceutical drugs, sex, and other demons that plagued him through much of his career until he finally got sober and stayed that way about 25 years ago. This is really the story here as he valiantly tries to keep going, making money, closeting his homosexuality for fear of his career, and dealing with a lifetime of not feeling good enough. 

 Richard Madden plays John’s longtime lover and manager, John Reid, whom John allowed to run his life and career as he rose to superstardom in the ‘70s and ‘80s with hit after hit. As seen here Reid was an opportunist who flaunted his infidelity in front of a smitten John, but who also saw to his career and made him a lot of money. 

 There are many great moments in this, and one of the best scenes, which according to Taupin is almost entirely factual, is the way “Your Song” came about. John and Taupin were just starting out together as composer and lyricist with Taupin’s poems put to John’s music. Both are living at John’s mother’s house, when Taupin hands him a poem over morning coffee. Still in his bathrobe John sits down at the piano and picks out the main melody to their first number hit in the United States, which led to a stint at L.A.’s famous Troubador club where so many entertainers began their rise to stardom. 

 Where fans are likely to be disappointed is the truncated ending with John leaving rehab a sober man and then cutting to still shots of the real Elton John with his partner David Furnish (also a producer of this movie) and their two sons as they are today. It leaps over the last half of John’s life entirely. But in a career that has spanned almost six decades and included collaborations ranging from John Lennon to Justin Timberlake, two-hours doesn’t seem long enough to cover it all. So just take flight with “Rocketman” and enjoy the ride.

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