Film Review: ROCKETMAN

Film Poster: ROCKETMAN

Film Poster: ROCKETMAN

A brilliant joy. An astonishing rich, and indulgently fearless, curated life knitted beautifully together by director and star. It’s got my Best Director, Best Actor nomination slots locked down.

Since February 2004, Elton and his band have performed 450 shows at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The first five-year residency, “The Red Piano” played 243 shows through April 2009. A second residency began on Sept. 28, 2011,  “The Million Dollar Piano” played 207 shows across seven year ending on May 19, 2018.
Elton John returns to Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena on September 6 and 7, 2019. The T-Mobile Arena can hold 17,500 people.

Here in Las Vegas, it is well known that the portrayal of John in ROCKETMAN still holds true. John is rude, insolent and – according to people who worked at The Colosseum – still an asshole.

Well, the superstar himself (an executive producer on the film) demanded his biographical film show the drugs, sex, and his grandiose imperial lifestyle that made him not just a star, but an icon. The director, Dexter Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall, duly indulge the mission statement by featuring the outrageous extravagance that signified his life. John is not embarrassed or ashamed of anything he brought, anything he did, and especially, not the drugs or sex.

I know it is not “politically correct” to say what we all know as fact: John did not present as a Mick Jagger or Paul McCarthy. As the piano player, he was designated to sit and sing. How dreary is that when the audiences demanded a specular, with energy, excess and flashy sexually-tinged glides across the stage? Short in height, short-sighted, balding too early by 20, and not genetically gifted, John’s creation of “Elton John” was a triumph.

All hail the “curated” facts. ROCKETMAN is dazzling and as Elton John, Taron Egerton, who does his own singing, is fantastic. He’s a revelation. A film of this complexity involves a lot of creative people, but Fletcher’s vision and mastery is in every scene.

As all these almost true biographical movies begin at the early life of its subject, John does not give his mum and dad a pass. Young Elton begins as Reggie Dwight (Matthew Illesley), playing the piano while his mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) and father (Steven Mackintosh) make childhood – not Dicken’s poor –  but negligent. His mother’s primary interest is her appearance and perhaps frequents nights out while John’s father clearly dislikes him – in the extreme. Did dad know his son was gay by time he was 6 years old?

Film Image: ROCKETMAN

Film Image: ROCKETMAN

When John became incredibly famous, his father, newly married with two young sons, was still not Impressed. It’s a brutal characterization and probably was violent. Did John’s relationship with John Reid echo this father-son dynamic?

Our hearts go out to young Reggie because his father is so demasculating. His mother fares better though they did have – in real life – a very toxic relationship. But two cruel parents is considered cinematic overload.

Elton John explained: “‘I suppose my mum and dad must have been in love once, but there wasn’t much sign they ever had been by the time I came along. They gave every impression of hating each other. My dad was strict and remote and had a terrible temper; my mum was argumentative and prone to dark moods,” John wrote in a personal essay for The Guardian. 

Because these tales always have a supportive influence – it must be a screenwriting device – John’s  grandmother (Gemma Jones) encourages him to play the piano.

When John is in rehab, he narratives his life in flashbacks. Yes, he admits being an asshole and worse. He freely enjoys a life of sexual hedonism and lots of drugs and alcohol. And Saudi-Princess style shopping.

Along for the decades of fame and excess is John’s songwriter partner, lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). The saga of fame and ego-gratifying extremes really takes off when the villain of John’s life, John Reid, (Richard Madden) sets his eyes on him. The drama of John’s life began with this meeting in 1970 when he debuted in LA at the Troubadour to a frenzy. What is it like to be thrust into an exalted state? 

What does Mick Jagger feel when 50,000 people scream for 2 hours at him? So few know this God-like power. How does a body absorb this kind of energy directed at it with such a force?

Did Julius Caesar feel like Elton John when he crossed the Rubicon? 

The man that galvanizes John, and all of us, is the darkly handsome, daringly sexy, masculine cruelty of Madden’s portrayal of John’s manager and early lover.

What exactly was their relationship like? It’s profoundly clearly in just one scene that explains Reid’s hold on John. It is not the sex, it is the violence. At the height of John’s career, his family is visiting his palatial mansion. He is having a temper-tantrum. Reid walks over and when John yells at him for not obeying a command, Reid punches him in the nose. Enough said.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

In the 1990s, when John brought lawsuits against several members of his financial team, his expenses were presented to the court. His credit card statements showed that during the past decade, an approximate $450,000 was spent on  flowers for then boyfriend/manager John Reid. (Reid settled out-of-court for several million dollars before John lost the case).

How did Bernie Taupin write so many fantastic songs? I looked up the catalog of his recorded songs and he must have written 100 songs a week that were recorded by John and a few others. But John’s music made them millions. While Taupin is brought along on tour, he is a shallow presence while all the drugs, shopping and sex swirl around him. It seems John was so outrageous and colorful, everyone in his orbit faded to shadows in his presence.

 When Reid forces John to marry for appearances, he marries Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker), an unaware bride of her new husband’s previous announcement that he is bi-sexual. Renate is unhappy with the Royal lifestyle. She is treated kindly in the film. They were married for 4 years and the divorce settlement was around £5 million, and Blauel went on to live in a country house in Surrey purchased for her by John.

John had also been struggling with drug and alcohol addictions since before the wedding (something Renate must have known), and later compared his decision to get married to his situation in a 2008 interview with The Australian.

“A drug addict thinks like this: ‘I’ve had enough boyfriends, and that’s not made me happy, so I’ll have a wife — that will change everything.’ And I loved Renate. She’s a great girl. I really, really loved her. But, you know… it is one of the things I regret most in my life, hurting her.” 

The wonderful songs are all here and everyone sings and dances. It is such a joyous rendering of the great songs. But, most significantly, the scenes between Madden and Egerton are really sensational. Madden – as Reid – looks at Egerton fully engaged with desire, lust and thrill. At least in the beginning of their relationship. Madden, whose own personal life is under tabloid scrutiny, also owns one of the Best Supporting slots on my ballot at the end of the year.

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About Victoria Alexander

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/author/author-3571/ Contributing to: FilmsInReview: http://www.filmsinreview.com FilmFestivalToday: http://www.filmfestivaltoday.com Las Vegas Informer Group: LVInformer.com Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org
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