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Rocketman, directed by Dexter Fletcher who took over last year’s classic Bohemian Rhapsody after the original director (Bryan Singer) was removed, is one of the most uplifting yet profoundly pessimistic biographies that you will ever see on the big screen. Though nearly everyone knows the Elton John saga where he rose to fame as a young man, few are aware of how alcohol, drugs and conniving advisors nearly destroyed him.
The beginning of the film defines its strength as you watch Elton walk out of a Madison Square Garden concert to attend an alcohol counseling session. Dressed in a costume where he resembles a horned Satan with angel wings, he begins to tell his life story that will leave you transfixed.
Without saying more, Elton revisits his childhood where he was treated with contempt by his father (Steven Mackintosh) and largely ignored by his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). As you watch him tell his story in the therapy session, you see him visited by his eight-year-old self where they join together in a mesmerizing song that leaves you both smiling and tapping your feet in disbelief.
Elton is lovingly played as a boy by Matthew Illesley and by Taron Egerton as an adult. Mr. Egerton brings Elton to life as both a gay man looking for love in all the wrong places and an artist whose partnership with lyricists Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) brings magic to the stage with every song.
Mr. Egerton has given us a series of engaging performances ranging from his role as Eddie Edwards in Eddie the Eagle (2015) and as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin in the monumentally appealing Kingsmen films (2015 and 2017). Jamie Bell is an equally talented actor who has preferred edgy films ranging from Billy Elliot (2000) to Snowpiercer (2014). Here, they make a great team as they reflect the close friendship that sustained our two classic musicians from the time they first met.
Ironically, Rocketman reveals that Elton John had a lot in common with Freddie Mercury. While both inspired audiences on nearly every continent with songs and stage performances that are legendary, both went down a path where excess nearly destroyed them.
When Mercury left Queen, he slowly spiraled downhill under the guidance of his would-be lover. Elton did the same thing when he said goodbye to Mr. Taupin. Accepting the love interest from his conniving manager John Reid, marvelously played in a hateful fashion by Richard Madden, he was saved from his massive use of alcohol and controlled substances by his eventual journey to rehab.
Needless to say, a great part of this film are the many songs you see Elton sing from boyhood to his later years. Among others, each one produces a glorious moment ranging from Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Your Song and the film’s title Rocketman. In that regard, wait until you see the moment he takes the stage for the first time at the Trubadour in Los Angeles where Director Fletcher literally elevates both Elton and the audience into the air when he sings and performs Crocodile Rock.
While Elton has performed numerous songs for which he has earned massive admiration, his greatest accomplishment may very well have been cooperating with Mr. Fletcher in the making of this film. He conquered his alcoholism years ago and married a man he profoundly loves, and he is not afraid to show his weaknesses that nearly destroyed both his life and career.
While HIV killed Mr. Mercury when he turned 45, to his everlasting credit Elton has been able to embrace his past, warts and all. He is a figure to be remembered through the ages, and I encourage all of you to see this film as soon as possible.