Rocketman starts with Elton John (Taron Egerton) walking from the stage dressed as a bedazzled and feathered demon into a 12 step room sitting in a circle to begin talking about the inner demons that controlled his life. This allows the audience to let Elton be our guide into the rise of our beloved showman.
We are introduced to him as a shy little boy living with his mother, brilliantly played by an almost unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard. It is quite obvious that the relationship is strained, with a mother who is not interested in raising a child and a father who wants nothing to do with him. All he wanted was to feel loved, even asking for a hug, but it was not coming. Discovering a love for music and a natural gift for piano, the young prodigy sets out to become his own man, faking confidence he never received from his life at home.
The film goes back and forth from the group therapy session to the key moments in his rise to fame. From the surreptitious meeting of his lifelong writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) it is clear that Bell is the glue that holds Egerton’s one man show together, the chemistry onscreen is obvious immediately. When they arrive in West Hollywood to play the Troubadour for the first American gig we are introduced to the beginning of his rocket trip to superstardom. Eccentric club owner Doug Westin, excellently portrayed by Tate Donavan, introduces a very scared and insecure Elton to the crowd, as he walks from the bathroom stall onto the stage, the peacock emerges and we start to make our ascension together to all that is glitz and glitter.
Director Dexter Fletcher does a remarkable job doing what so few can, and that is keep a biopic about a musician afloat without pandering or being too watered down. The musical numbers are beautifully choreographed and the best part of the film. Not only are they magnificent show stoppers, they service the plot and move the story along. They are not reduced to placeholders in between plot points which can become arduous and often bring down lesser movies.
Richard Madden plays John Reid, his manager who fulfills the sex part of this sex, drugs, and booze filled second half. Madden, oozing charisma and charm, continues guiding Elton further up the charts and further into addiction. His self proclaimed addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, and more comes to a head with a suicide attempt/musical number of Rocketman. Coming face to face with his younger self at the bottom of the pool leads to a beautiful duet and choreographed dance while being rescued by the paramedics. We all know how the story ends, with a three year retirement tour around the world with his husband and children waiting for him when he gets home. The internal struggle and constant abuse of drugs and alcohol make the redemption arc worth watching. A rousing end, set to “I’m still standing” strikes the perfect chord for a life filled with struggle, pain, and triumph.