In wistful eloquence, Director Dexter Fletcher captures Taron Egerton’s Elton John composing his signature “Your Song” donned in bathrobe, playing the piano in his Mother’s living room. Elton’s dear friend lyricist Bernie Taupin, played by Jamie Bell, listens in enchanted wonder. Glancing at Bernie, Elton sings: “My gift is my song and this one’s for you…”
Elton is gay. Bernie is straight. “Your Song” is my very favorite Elton John song, since I was a teen. It never occurred to me: Was that Elton’s love song for Bernie?
Throughout much of his life, Elton experienced the “slings and arrows” of Rock Star fortune: illicit drugs, overdoses, and wanton gratuitous sex. In Director Dexter’s musical bio fantasy “Rocketman”, music icon Elton’s tragedy may have sourced from the frightened lonely boy, who just wanted to be loved.
Dexter Fletcher took over as director for “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the rock group Queen bio pic about the late legendary Freddie Mercury, when Director Bryan Singer was fired by the studio. Both Freddie and Elton are gay men, who suffered in inauthentic self-expression. In familiar “Rocketman” affinity, Dexter creates touching compassion amidst the absurdity of prejudice. Dexter wisely infuses the offbeat sense of humor.
Taron is courageous vulnerability and resilience as tortured Elton, born Reginald Dwight. Taron awes in his vocal renditions of Elton John classics like “Rocketman” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”. As song lyricist partner Bernie, Jamie Bell embodies gentle wisdom and affection. He’s Elton’s only enduring friend. Bernie confesses to Elton, “I love you man. I really do. Just not like that.”
Paradoxically, that ‘incomplete’ love evolves as fate. At the narrative arc, Elton tells his emotionally bankrupt Mother Sheila, played by haunting Bryce Dallas Howard, that he’s homosexual. She says, “You will never be loved properly.” That too, becomes Elton’s sentence.
In the mural of fantastical sexual and musical narrative excess, Screenwriter Lee Hall poignantly constructs Elton’s transformation as he begins to heal and love himself. Albeit clumsily, like the musical number emerging in Elton’s dinner with his Mom and her boyfriend Fred, played by whimsical Tom Bennett. Yet, we still hold out hope that Elton discovers his measure of joy and peace.
In flashbacks, Elton grew up in a dysfunctional English family. His Dad Stanley, dispassionate and disinterested Steven Mackintosh, is rarely home because of his work. When he is home, he listens to jazz, but not to his son. Elton’s Mom tolerates her loveless marriage. In the aftermath stands young Reggie, played by bright innocent Matthew Illesley. Also Dad had never hugged his own son.
Reggie is the gifted piano prodigy. He gets a musical scholarship to the Royal London Academy. His family spirals in demise. His parent’s divorce. Eventually, Reggie forms a band and tours with a Black Rhythm and Blues band, which reveals his soulful music roots. Furthering his music career, Reggie changes his name to Elton John. In apparent divine intervention Elton, the brilliant composer, who can’t write a lyric, hooks up with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Elton and Bernie would emerge as one of the greatest songwriting duos of the 20th century.
Alas, the downside of fame and fortune. Duplicitous John Reid, played with mercenary charm by Richard Madden, seduces innocent Elton. John insinuates his way into his life as Elton’s business manager. Elton and Bernie continue to create prolific songs, as Elton succumbs into the abyss of addiction and depression with his eyes wide open.
In an interview years ago, Elton said when he first started working with Bernie, he thought the words were superfluous. What mattered was the melody. That’s what determined a great song. Years later, he got that words defined the song. Words resonated with the soul. Music and lyrics were like Yin and Yang for a song.
Perhaps, the narrative failing of “Rocketman” is its resolution. We know that Elton John in real life emerged from the darkness. He’s in love, has a family. Recently, he announced his retirement from touring. Amen, good for Elton. The ending needed its own “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.
That being said, I got “Rocketman” in the bigger picture. Much like Elton may have written “Your Song” for Bernie. Perhaps, Bernie wrote the song “Rocketman” for Elton. He wrote: “I’m not the man you think I am at home…
Rocketman burning out his fuse up here alone.” Elton was all alone. He just wanted to be gotten, to be loved. In that way, we can see a little of “Rocketman” in all of us, too.