Rocketman

Director Dexter Fletcher made the studio a billion bucks with his Queen biopic, which I have to admit, wasn’t that great of a movie. I had fun watching it because I own every Queen album and grew up loving them. It just wasn’t great cinema. Fletcher now takes the geeky actor he directed in Eddie the Eagle (a bizarre true story about a skier in England), and has him playing Sir Elton John. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t look much like Elton, or sound much like him. I mean, we all cringed when we heard Val Kilmer was going to play Jim Morrison and Rami Malek was cast as Freddie Mercury. Yet those guys pulled it off, and for the most part, Egerton does, too.

It’s weird that Fletcher thought that by throwing in musical numbers in fantasy sequences that made it play like a musical, he could just feed us the usual cliched rags-to-riches story, and in such a cheesy fashion. One of the reasons Walk Hard (John C. Reilly) was so funny is because it made fun of all these diva rockstar biopics, with their drugs and orgies. They also have to deal with strict fathers, and depressing upbringings.

Elton’s wacky mom is played by Bryce Dallas Howard. The stern father was played by Steven Mackintosh, and the later scenes with him and his new family, I don’t even believe happened that way. Especially since there have been interviews in which Elton has spoken so glowingly of his mom, yet in this movie she seems like a pill. It’s hard to tell what we should believe, especially with Elton and his husband as the executive producers (which was also a problem with the surviving band members on the Queen film).

Reginald Dwight does have a loving grandmother (Gemma Jones), but she, like other characters in this movie, often make declarations instead of having conversations that feel real.

Oh, and Dexter does the storytelling from an AA meeting. That’s something we’ve only seen a hundred times before.

We watch as Dwight gets a scholarship to a prestigious music academy, and soon gravitates to rock ‘n roll with a band playing at a smokey club. That leads to his getting better pay, backing an American soul review that’s touring the UK (and also gets him his first kiss with another man). Apparently Dexter did get the memo from people upset that Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality wasn’t covered enough in Bohemian Rhapsody, because they certainly cover it every 10 minutes in this.

Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) is the lyricist behind all of Elton John’s songs (aside from Crocodile Rock), and while it was nice to see their relationship, I again thought of how bothered I was in Bohemian Rhapsody that we didn’t get to learn much about the other band members. In this, there wasn’t a single mention about guitarist Davey Johnstone. Not a lot about Taupin was covered, aside from the fact that he hooked up with a tall, gorgeous black woman at Mama Cass’s house and he wanted to take a break from the relentless touring with Elton. You don’t learn that he was married four times (one of his wives was actress Rene Russo’s sister), and he wrote with other artists like Alice Cooper. He gave Heart their hit “These Dreams” and co-wrote one of the worst songs in rock history — We Built This City (Starship).

The concert footage was fun, even if you realize how much you liked Elton’s voice over Egerton, who does his own singing. It’s also a bit frustrating to hear a song performed in the storyline before it was written in real life. At Elton’s first show at the Troubadour, where we get that derivative scene of him having stage fright because his idol Leon Russell as well as Neil Diamond, were in the audience — he performs Crocodile Rock. Uh…that song wasn’t written until two years later. There were other times songs were sung before they had been written, because it fit an emotion Elton was experiencing. So we see this goofy dance sequence set to Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, when he’s a kid and teen playing at a pub…well before that song was conceived.

At one point, Bernie Taupin tells him he wants to take a break. Elton does an album (A Single Man, which is awful) without him, but in his misery he seems to come up with the song Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, which attracts the attention of a female producer (who will become his wife). Problem is…that’s a Taupin song. Yet in this movie, we’re led to believe Elton’s writing it at the piano.

Would it have been that hard to find a song on the proper album from that time period, that conveyed that emotion? They don’t have to all be hits. In fact, it would’ve been more interesting to hear some of the gems that aren’t overplayed on the radio. Especially when he feebly attempts suicide, sinks to the bottom of his pool…and we get the corniest scene ever — Elton seeing his younger self, who sings Rocketman to him. When he is rescued and taken to the hospital, there’s another musical sequence, continuing with Rocketman. Uh, folks…how about his terrific song I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself? Or, how about you go to the terrific tune Someone Saved My Life Tonight [as I’m writing this, my wife said she just read that Egerton was disappointed that song wasn’t used in the movie, and I’m guessing it’s during that scene, too].

Some of his other songs that I like that you don’t hear in the movie include: Grey Seal, All the Girls Love Alice, Island Girl,  Elderberry Wine, Indian Sunset, Goodbye, Burn Down the Mission, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, Levon, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Little Jeanie, and Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. And don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t get all our favorite songs in there, but hearing just the greatest hits package? How is that interesting for the fans? Bohemian Rhapsody gave us some of the lesser known songs we love that we’re not inundated with on the radio every day (Hammer to Fall, Love of My Life, Radio GaGa, Doing All Right, Now I’m Here, to name a few).

The Beatles’ Across the Universe was a movie musical fantasy that didn’t get the best reviews, yet I liked it. The visuals were so much more stunning than the dance numbers we got in this movie. Hell, it’s been over 40 years since I saw the Bee Gees play The Beatles in the movie Sgt. Pepper, and as disappointing as that was, I think it was a better fantasy/musical than this mess.

Now, aside from Elton telling us HIS version of how horrible his parents were (in the very pedestrian way of having a kid constantly asking his dad, “Can I have a hug now?” or “How come you never hug me?” because, we all know that’s what 6-year-olds ask their dad)…we then get more excuses for the borish, narcissistic behavior Elton displayed in real life. Manager John Reid (Richard Madden) comes along and seduces Elton, and once he gets him in bed, gets him to sign contracts that aren’t in his best interest. I’m just not sure how making bad financial decisions would cause you to be so horrible to the people around you. One of Elton’s friends and tour-mates — Billy Joel — lost all his money to a brother-in-law, but he’s been nothing but class to everyone he’s worked with or come into contact with. He also had a drinking problem, but was still nice. I think Elton was just bad at making the right decisions and he had a horrible personality. I get that he’s the producer and doesn’t want to show that. He figures he’s showing himself in rehab, why show the bankruptcies and firing everyone around him and being a diva backstage making unreasonable demands. Instead, we just get him barfing backstage because he’s nervous about the big crowd, and he was always such a shy boy.

So much of this movie was annoying. One of those things, that also bugged me with Mike Myers in Bohemian Rhapsody, was how the record executive dealt with Elton and Bernie [side note: my wife was distracted by the fact that the teenage Elton, with his huge glasses, looked like Mike Myers in Austin Powers; I thought he looked like someone in Herman’s Hermits. Another time he looked more like Warren Zevon than Elton John]. Anyway, this record executive chomps a cigar and barks at them about how bad the songs are. Even when we just hear the first line of the opening lyrics (of songs we know are so great, like Take me to the Pilot and I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues).

I don’t buy the story arc with the father (I won’t spoil it here, because I’m sure it will move some people).

I was a bit confused by the fact that Elton said at least twice in the movie, how he and Bernie have never had a fight, yet…we see a few scenes where he’s telling him off.

Aside from the songs we all know and love, the movie does deserve credit for costume designer Julian Day. Although, looking at photos of what Elton was wearing at that time and place, probably made Day’s job easier. It is a blast to see Elton in an AA meeting with a gaudy, sequined devil costume, or playing in L.A. with a sequined Dodgers outfit.

We heard Elton’s mom say he’d be “bald as an egg” by the time he’s 20, but we never see him pay the $28,000 for the hair transplant.

We don’t see Elton get the part in the movie Tommy, we just see him covering The Who’s Pinball Wizard in a concert scene.

Some of the edits were interesting. I liked seeing him have an argument with his mom and stepfather at a restaurant, go into a bathroom to compose himself…and walk out to a different restaurant and meeting with Bernie.

It’s just a shame so much of this was cheesy, self-serving, and cliched flashbacks we felt like we’ve seen in so many other movies.

Near the end we see a video recreation of I’m Still Standing. That song would’ve been a better title for this movie. Especially because this rocket never quite takes off.

1 ½ stars out of 5.

 

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