Review: Rocketman, a tribute to legend Elton John, is a dream of a film

Life takes a backseat when Elton John sings. To the knighted artist—a kid trapped in an adult’s body but blessed with the musical abilities of a celestial—a piano and a table often meant the same thing: a launchpad from which to conduct his own imaginary (and one-manned) orchestra.

Elton could tell an octave apart from a note at an age that belied its own tenderness, having gained a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and mastered Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata when he was all but 11.

Rocketman, however, is about how all this less-than-ordinary man wanted was to, well, lead an ordinary existence.

Sex, drugs, and rock & roll

Elton has never quite lived out his life in black and white, and the veteran admits as much. “I’ve f**ked everything that moves, and I’ve taken every drug known to man,” he says in a brazenly open admission of his tendency to keep hurtling between inebriation and narcosis.

He sniffs, he puffs and he chugs, and it’s in choosing to focus on a decidedly less gossamer side of his existence—a side bereft of either sparkle or sequins, and one teeming with vulnerability—that director Dexter Fletcher pulls off his single biggest masterstroke.

Above all, this film is a portrait of emptiness. Elton’s music is contextualised by his upbringing and the incidents that shaped the course of his life; thus, we see the story of his existence play out over one kinetically staged musical number after another, with even side characters partaking in this fascinating, surreal show of rock-and-rollery.

My personal favourites from the soundtrack remain Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting and Crocodile Rock, and the lyrics here are as haunting as they are revealing, dealing with themes as varied as isolation, aspiration, and acceptance.

The safe haven that is music

Elton’s, of course, was mostly a repressed identity, one that sought solace in music when the world around him—a world characterised by extramarital flings, resolutely disciplinarian dads (“Never ever touch my collection without asking!”) and avaricious love interests—became too much to bear.

Everything here looks and feels appropriately vintage. Vinyls with Count Basie and Elvis Presley adorning them frequently make an appearance, even as Elton gets the measure of a lovely old Yamaha model before humming Marty Robbin’s The Streets of Laredo to himself.

His longtime lyricist and collaborator, Bernie Taupin (played by a terrific Jamie Bell) refers to tower records with the kind of wide-eyed affection one would usually reserve for a paramour, and writer Lee Hall’s occasional forays into humour help leaven, what is, by all means, a rather dark film.

The roller coaster of life

Elton is a man who frequently wished he was someone else—this while everyone else was busy idolising him—and in one of the film’s very best sequences, this “introverted extrovert” goes on to hug a younger, more innocent version of himself: a version that didn’t retch in toilets, lie comatose at the bottom of a swimming pool, hurl chairs around in a fit of desperation or wear heart-shaped earrings when not dressed as a fairy godmother.

The film captures his eccentricity to the tee, and in playing a man who was sometimes so deranged that he stuffed pills like they were M&Ms into his mouth, Taron Edgerton delivers what will unmistakably be hailed as one of the year’s finest performances.

His character is alternatively described as a fag and a twat, one who unnecessarily drapes himself in “ridiculous paraphernalia”, and Edgerton makes us feel for the man behind the gold-rimmed glasses—best exemplified by a standout moment when he examines his own reflection in the mirror in an attempt to adjust his grin to just precisely the right width. Everything in this universe is measured out to exactly the right proportions, you see. An inch more, an inch less, and the Elton John you see wouldn’t be the Elton John you’ve grown to adore.

Let’s celebrate ‘Our Song’

Lean in and drink it all up, as a poster in one of the many bars that John performs in says. The veteran’s life has been—and will remain—above everything else, a song: Our Song, if you will.

Most of us might not go down to breakfast dressed in just a bathrobe and an underwear, but that doesn’t mean we’re quite able to resist giving an ovation to the sheer timelessness of his work. He’s Still Standing. So are we.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Shreehari H. is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.

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