“Rocketman,” the musical biopic about iconic performer Elton John, has proven to be a fascinating movie for different types of viewers. The film should be necessary viewing for people who do not understand the performer’s relevance to popular music. The movie has an inherent value for casual and diehard fans who know the music, but perhaps are less familiar with John’s backstory.
“Rocketman”: evolved storytelling
As audiences watch the credits, they learn that John is the executive producer. Thus, it seems that viewers can trust that the information they get from the film is what he wants them to learn. There are funny moments mixed in with poignant moments, and all of the moments are surrounded by music.
John’s childhood as depicted in the movie, without giving away too much, is an example of unhappy families being unhappy in their own ways. The structure and dynamics of young Reggie’s family were unexpected and harrowing to say the least. Watching the boy rise from those circumstances to sold out shows and to become worth millions of pounds while still a young man gives audiences something to cheer for, whether a fan of John’s music or not.
The movie’s structure includes scenes of young Reggie (before John changed his name to “Elton John” he was Reginald Dwight) leading his neighbors in an ensemble performance of “The Bitch is Back.” The group dancing and singing gives the movie the feel of a musical, as opposed to biopics that often have the feel of newspaper clippings brought to life. For those who balk at watching musicals, take heart: the movie needs those moments to lighten the more difficult parts.
Still, this is a movie about a performer. His onstage outfits grow more extravagant, even as his love life falls apart and his family issues deepen. But, the songs and John’s live antics steal the show. And just when viewers (too young to know better, perhaps) are likely to believe that John’s high-kicking, gravity-defying moves at the piano are the result of movie alchemy, they are shown a real-life newspaper clipping that captured the moment.
There are some surprises in terms of John’s development as an artist: his precocious piano-playing, his time spent backing an r&b group, are just two examples.
“Rocketman” allows audiences to see the role that each person onscreen played in the life of Reggie/Elton. Even when it seemed like a period of years had elapsed, the film’s makers kept control of what characters had been introduced, and what they meant to the performer. The film does not cover the performer’s entire life, and it doesn’t have to in order to be effective. There are post scripts that catch audiences up on John’s life currently.
Elton John’s musical and other successes in brief
John scored his first hit in 1970 – – “Border Song.” Since then, his name has been linked with a series of songs that celebrate the working class, mourn cinematic and actual royalty, and focus on interpersonal relationships in a way that makes listeners consider their own humanity a little more.
The catalog of songs that John has amassed includes raucous tunes with serious rock ‘n’ roll credentials such as “Saturday Night’s Alright,” “Crocodile Rock” and “The Bitch is Back,” to name a few. Then there are the disco-oriented tunes, such as “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (with Kiki Dee).
Among the rock songs and the disco numbers there are the ballads, such as “Your Song.” One of the highlights of “Rocketman” is getting to see how certain songs came about, how they were built from chords and ideas. It is left up to viewers to consider how those songs then grew into radio staples.
There is more to the performer’s life than just performing and managing difficult relationships. John was knighted in 1998, earning the title of Knight Bachelor in honor of “services to music and charitable services.”
The biopic comes just as John’s career heads toward retirment. The performer announced his retirement from touring in 2018. The “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” is scheduled to end Dec. 7, 2020.
“Rocketman” is worth watching for the music and for the exploration of the human spirit.