fri 21/06/2024

Rocketman review - fabulous musically but a tad miserable too | reviews, news & interviews

Rocketman review - fabulous musically but a tad miserable too

Rocketman review - fabulous musically but a tad miserable too

Elton John settles old scores and pulls out all the stops

Taron Egerton captures Elton John's dark side and can belt out a song too...

Rocketman opens with its hero in flamboyant stage costume stomping into a drab group therapy session. Pulling the sparkling horns off his magnificent head-dress and shuffling his feathered wings into a seat, Elton John demands of his fellow addicts, ‘How long is this going to take?’ The intimidated counsellor replies, ‘That’s really up to you’.

But the answer for the audience is more precise – we’re about to watch two hours of misery memoir intercut with great songs. Rocketman is biopic as drama therapy; its star gets to tell us in detail how his late parents never loved him unconditionally and as a consequence piano prodigy Reggie Dwight turned into the self-destructive but enormously talented Elton John. 

Repeatedly returning to his dismal childhood means that Rocketman isn’t unadulterated fun like jukebox movies Mamma Mia! or School of Rock. Dexter Fletcher isn’t helped by a script that includes psychobabble such as: ‘You got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be’. This piece of wisdom is delivered by an unnamed black musician to our hero who, at the beginning of his career, played piano in a back-up band put together for  American performers touring the UK. There's a lot of name-dropping of other popstars (Mama Cass, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, The Beach Boys...) but this isn't a film filled with Madame Tussauds-style recreations of famous rockers who crossed Elton's path. There's no Live Aid and we have to settle for a brief glimpse of Rachel Muldoon briefly playing Kiki Dee. Rocketman is really all about Elton and his journey to that rehab clinic.

If witty dialogue isn’t the film’s strong point, there’s still plenty to be enjoyed in the immaculately recreated vignettes of Reggie’s youth in Pinner and his metamorphosis into Elton the rock god. Taron Egerton is superb at conveying Elton’s mixture of insecurity about his sex appeal and his arrogant confidence in his musical ability. There’s insight into the creative process after 1967 when he teamed up with lyricist Bernie Taupin (sympathetically played by Jamie Bell above pictured left) and a real sense of their musical range from pop ballads to stadium rock, blues and C&W.  

Nostalgic scenes are set in grimy pubs, shabby cafés and Denmark Street as the singer-songwriters grapple with London’s Tin Pan Alley hustlers before hitting the big time with ‘Your Song’ and cracking America in 1970. From then on it’s the clichéd rock ‘n’ roll tale of extravagance, adulation, dodgy management and addiction. Like Bohemian RhapsodyRocketman deploys familiar hit songs to comment on the action: cueing up ‘Pinball Wizard’ for the descent into drink and drug-fuelled debauchery, ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ for the failed marriage to Renate Blauel, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' for his bust-up with Taupin.  

Playing fast and loose with the chronology of recordings and events may dismay diehard fans but it cues up consistently fantastical musical sequences as well as recreations of John’s extravagant live performances and music videos. Egerton isn’t miming and his singing, whether in concert or studio is impressive. His voice is close enough in spirit to the original recordings to raise goose bumps while not descending into pastiche. 

Robert Madden may confuse his female fan club in his role as John Reid (pictured right), the manipulative manager who was also the performer’s lover in the ‘70s. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, there’s no shying away from on-screen gay sex but it’s tasteful – frenzied belt buckle fumbling followed by silhouetted pairs of entwined legs. It’s unfortunate that their relationship turned toxic and gives Elton John (who produced the film) another chance to settle old scores and revisit psychic wounds.  

Audiences hoping to get a glimpse of life post rehab have to settle instead for a few bald captions and photos of Elton as a happy family man in control of his career which are tacked on before the end credits. For those unsatisfied by the story cutting off so soon, it's best to hunt down Tantrums and Tiaras, the verité documentary his husband David Furnish made in 1997 or the delicious episode of Carpool Karaoke Sir Elton did with James Corden in 2016 where he shows his sense of humour and ability to mock himself, which isn't very apparent in Rocketman.

Witty dialogue isn’t the film’s strong point but there’s still plenty to be enjoyed


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters