“You just need to remember who you are and be OK with it.”
These words uttered by actor Jamie Bell during his portrayal of lyricist Bernie Taupin in the summer film "Rocketman" find themselves at the heart of the flashy biographical motion picture about the life of Elton John. The movie sheds light on the turbulent life of the famous musician as he struggles to find love and, more importantly, to love himself.
In accordance with the movie's mature subject matter, our first glimpse of Elton John (portrayed by Taron Egerton) immediately begins the process of humanizing the godlike rock and pop star. Elton is seen strutting down a hallway clad from head to toe in a sequined orange bodysuit accented by matching devil horns and a set of wings. The assumption is easily made that he is striding toward a concert venue, but then he turns to enter a rehab facility. It is from this point in his life that Elton begins to face the tribulations of his past that led to his battles with bulimia, alcoholism and drug addiction.
When questioned about his childhood, Elton asserts that he was incredibly happy growing up. Yet this is refuted as a young version of Elton (portrayed by Matthew Illesley) takes center focus. While this portion of the movie does drag on, it also establishes the original source of Elton’s insecurity through the deficit of his parental support. A slightly rewritten version of “I Want Love” allows each character to sing of the love they hope to have, and it becomes exceedingly apparent that these differences will leave each of them isolated.
As Elton matures into adulthood, these same insecurities manifest within his personal life. As a result, "Rocketman" continually sets its focus on the relationships that Elton John feels most impacted his life story. The first relationship — and the heart of the picture — is Elton’s friendship and collaboration with Bernie Taupin. It is through this connection that the movie provides a unique glimpse into the songwriting that created the heartfelt serenade of “Your Song” and the gentle ballad “Tiny Dancer.” This intimate downplay of such monumental moments effectively brings a different perspective to those songs and offers a new insight to the music superstar.
Surprisingly, the movie does not shy away from the more unfavorable aspects of Elton’s life. Songs such as “Honky Cat,” “Pinball Wizard” and “Bennie and the Jets” are used in the film with stunningly visual odes to excess. CGI fireworks soar across the screen, actors are levitated, costumes become steadily more elaborate, and large ensembles begin to accompany the stars in a style almost reminiscent of musical theater.
All the while, Elton is led further into addiction and heartbreak through his relationship with manager John Reid (played by Richard Madden). Though the subject matter steadily becomes painful to watch, the near perfect visual displays make it impossible to turn away.
Finally, the audience is given what it has waited for: The picture’s title song is sung as Elton hits rock bottom and is subsequently transitioned back on stage for his iconic 1975 Dodger Stadium performance.
By the close of the film, Elton is effectively stripped of his godly façade. The humanity beneath his stage persona is fully disclosed as he confronts his demons from his position in rehab.
Overall, director Dexter Fletcher’s "Rocketman" balances itself gracefully. The elaborate cinematography within the film allows it to truly capture Elton’s flamboyance and charismatic persona. Yet while the film’s blatant flashiness is undoubtedly a highlight, its soul comes from the quieter aspects of the film. It is through such moments that we are truly able to discover something new within music that is decades old.
Although Taron Egerton will never be Elton John, his performance as an actor and vocalist draws the audience in, making the film exceptionally beautiful. The May 31 theatrical release is available this month on DVD, and is a definite must-see for those mature enough to handle the movie's more graphic content.
• Delaney Lust is a 2019 graduate of Davis High School.