‘Rocketman’ is the cinema version of an authorised biography.
While it lacks nuance, alternative perspectives and brushes past some of the more difficult memories, it does offer the personal pain and insight that can only come from being close to and hearing from the subject matter directly.
Like the man himself, the movie is not perfect but it wears its heart on its sleeve and draws you in with that honesty and some wonderfully executed flights of fancy.
The narrative, like real life, is a bit of a mess as the musician recollects his past while in a rehab session. A clever framing device to pre-empt any criticism that the story lacks objectivity, since it has to be Elton’s truth and a foggy one at that.
It also informs priorities; by telling his tale, the rock star is getting to the source of his pain and making peace with it.
Stepfathers, soccer, the fans that fill those stadiums and even the Piano Man’s deep love of all music is glossed over, but a little household in 1950s Pinner looms large.
Actors Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor play the young boy Reggie Dwight, before he became the rock star Elton John, and they are perfection.
Some of his parent's behaviour (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) is too horrifying to believe and conveyed in a straightforward manner that lacks nuance, but shows some sympathy. A rendering of Elton's 2001 hit 'I Want Love', sung by each member of the young family, is effectively the heart of the film.
His friendship with lyricist Bernie Taupin, success in America, spiralling drug use and relationship with manager and lover John Reid (Richard Madden) fill out the rest of the story. All important points, especially Bernie.
But Pinner is the key. It explains the drugs, the straight marriage and why Taupin is a brother and not just a best friend.
Several performers make their mark, most doing a lot with very little. Stephen Graham enjoys himself in the typical, gruff record producer role as Dick James, but underplays pivotal moments showing Dick has seen it all and will again.
Gemma Jones as Grandma Ivy displays the kind of working-class wisdom and practicality that saved Reggie as best it could. While Jamie Bell is happy to disappear into the background as the gentleman Bernie, so that any frustration speaks volumes.
Taron Egerton looks like Elton and gives it his all, but he never matches the presence of him in real life, his voice not deep enough, the flashes of anger never really let loose. He does, however, capture the boyish charm and emotional vulnerability of the musician, which is perhaps of more importance.
As a musical, there are plenty of attempts at big numbers but when the film belabours its intentions it kind of drags. Two songs early on feature a mass of dancers, but there is no connection between Elton and them, and no real purpose in going so grand. It looks and moves fake, and doesn’t really get the feel and smell of the old English pubs the younger Reggie worked in.
Later scenes seem to show director Dexter Fletcher growing in confidence. The highlight is a sequence that takes the performer from an attempted overdose in his swimming pool, to hospital, to strutting out on stage at Dodgers Stadium. Not only is it ambitious and seamlessly executed, but it conveys what is at stake for this man.
Appropriately, when the film takes off it soars so it can be forgiven a few failures.
It may not be the whole story, it may have a limited perspective but it understands that rock stars are made out of little boys and girls wanting love – and Elton John the ‘Rocketman’ is beloved.