The real genius of “Rocketman”, other than Elton John and Bernie Taupin themselves, is the wonderful narrative conceit of framing the story as a rehab confessional. It allows the makers or this musical fantasy to dive deep into the unreliable narration of a man who may be willing to air the dirty laundry of his past but still has a modern-day brand and reputation to protect.
Charting his humble beginnings in Pinner to the pinnacle of pop success, via The Royal Academy of Music, The Troubadour in Los Angeles to the depths of alcohol, sex and drug abuse, “Rocketman” gives us Elton’s view of his life and those who played a part in it for good and ill.
Taron Egerton plays a richly flamboyant, if somewhat flattering, Elton, bringing the celebrated celebrity to vivid and verisimilitudinous life, supported by an earnest and authentic turn from Jamie Bell as his long-time songwriting partner. The script, by Lee Hall, doesn’t shy away from Elton’s darker and more diva-ish tendencies and it’s far more graphic in its portrayal of his sexuality and drug use than the oft-criticised “Bohemian Rhapsody” although arguably it’s just as superficial. While it’s happy to acknowledge the damage and chaos caused by its star’s self-destructive behaviour, its also careful to avoid placing any of the blame for this at its subject’s door, instead distributing it evenly amongst his family and business associates. “Rocketman” is John’s way of explaining his early years of debauchery, not take responsibility for them.
Director Dexter Fletcher makes the most of the freedom the narrative structure affords him, deftly weaving in his star’s spectacular back catalogue of hits as expositional flourishes and marvellously keeps us in Elton’s head as the memories get more elaborate and fantastical as he disappears deeper down the rabbit hole of addiction. There’s a disappointing lack of celebrity ‘cameos’ – Neil Diamond, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan are all mentioned but never seen – but why on earth would Elton countenance sharing the spotlight with anyone else, no matter how briefly?
It’s a wonderfully well acted, heartfelt tribute to one of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest showmen, making great use of his music to weave an intoxicating and entertaining musical fantasy but its reluctance to stray too far from Elton’s solipsistic world view means that we’re never even close to getting a real insight into the man himself.