By Matt Lau & John Mulderig
Rocketman (Paramount) is a fantastical biopic-musical hybrid, retelling the life and career of cultural icon Sir Elton John.
Taron Egerton is compelling as the adult version of the talented maverick, who reflects on his past during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting into which he intrudes while still dressed in one of his outlandish costumes, which were once his trademark.
The group therapy session acts as a framing device for Elton’s addiction story and troublesome past. His ruminations begin with his unhappy childhood.
Egerton fearlessly delves into the character headfirst in a feature flick that recounts the subject’s homosexuality in a graphic manner that puts it at odds with scriptural values.
Elton cameoed in 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which starred Egerton in the lead role of “Eggsy”. A tie that led to the making of this film.
Rocketman shines with its storytelling and buoyant renditions of many of Elton’s familiar hits. Egerton does a convincing job of not only acting as Elton, but does all the singing too, unlike most biopics of musicians where the protagonist lip-syncs.
Director Dexter Fletcher, scripted by Lee Hall, gives the movie something of the feel of old Hollywood. Other scenes, by contrast, are all-too-contemporary in their portrayal of the singer-songwriter’s lifestyle.
Born to self-centred, perpetually quarrelling parents Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), young Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley, later Kit Connor) finds his sad plight relieved only by the kindness of his grandmother, Ivy (Gemma Jones), and his gift as a musical prodigy.
Desperate to escape his drab surroundings, he takes advantage of a chance to study at the Royal Academy of Music.
Subsequently discovering the joys of rock-and-roll, he collaborates with lyricist – and lifelong friend – Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, who is superb in this supporting role) and adopts his stage name. Fame follows relatively quickly, partly as a result of his smash debut at a Los Angeles nightclub, the Troubadour.
Bad professional and personal choices, however – principally involving his combined romantic and business ties to manager John Reid (Richard Madden) – lead to a downward spiral of addiction.
The movie, at times, is deliberately cheesy – after all, it is a celebration of the upbeat hits of the acclaimed solo artist. Other parts shift to a darker emotive when Elton battles his demons and in touching scenes when dealing with his relationships, notably with his loveless parents.
One particularly overt bed scene between Elton and his former lover will certainly make some Catholics uncomfortable. The scene in question has made history as the first major studio release to include on-screen gay male sex.
In Russia, about five minutes of footage was removed from the final cut. Samoa’s only cinema has banned the biopic due to its homosexual content, causing an outcry among locals on the Pacific island nation.
A postscript informs the audience that Elton has been sober for nearly 30 years and that his foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS victims.
Viewers of faith will be less comfortable with the other aspect of this update, which describes his long-term bond with – and civil marriage to – Reid’s apparently more congenial replacement.
All moral storytelling issues aside, Egerton’s interpretation of Elton is an early shout for an Oscar nomination.
The film contains a romanticised view of homosexual relationships, strong sexual content, including semi-graphic aberrant activity, partially glimpsed full nudity and decadent sensuality, drug use, a scene of urination, and much rough and crude language.
The Catholic News Service classification is O – morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.