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Queer quandaries, rock star dreams realized in ‘Rocketman’

By: - Writing Editor
/ 12:40 AM June 22, 2019

Taron Egerton in “Rocketman”

Months after Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, it’s Elton John’s turn to get the musical-biopic treatment. The famously furious and flamboyant Brit’s story unreels in “Rocketman,” revealing the English singer-songwriter’s boyhood years and his angst-ridden celebrity metamorphosis.

Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who took the reins of “Bohemian Rhapsody” after the firing of Bryan Singer, “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton as the bodacious pop star, bringing to vivid life the story of the celebrated gay singer.

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But, while “Bohemian” was a more feel-good karaoke sing-along, if somewhat disjointed movie, “Rocketman” is Fletcher’s more tightly told opus—one that benefits from the involvement of “Billy Elliot” screenwriter Lee Hall.

What’s similar to Freddie’s rise to stardom is Elton’s periodic succumbing to his excesses, as well as the ultimate acceptance of his own homosexuality.

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But before the substance addiction and the dalliances, Elton John, born Reggie Dwight, is shown to be tormented by an uninvolved father (Steven Mackintosh). As a boy, Reggie (Matthew Illesley and, later, Kit Connor) showed tremendous promise, his talent for music nurtured by his mom (Bryce Dallas Howard) and grandmother (Gemma Jones). But he was ignored by his disciplinarian dad, who forbade him from touching his record collection.

In his journey of musical growth and self-discovery, Reggie (Egerton) dreams of being a rock star and gives himself a new name—Elton. He soon finds himself partnering up with a brilliant, if tone-deaf lyricist, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), whose words Elton sets to music, essentially transforming them into radio hits.

The road to superstardom isn’t without its temptations, and both he and Bernie discover, often to their dismay, that Elton’s addictions and pent-up rage can be quite destructive.

In those combustible, practically bipolar moments, “Rocketman” treads the extremes of the emotional spectrum. You’d be hard-pressed not to feel giddy one minute and horribly heartbroken the next—drawn in by its real, abbreviated or adjusted encounters.

Egerton, who previously starred as a teen secret agent in two “Kingsman” films and in last year’s drab “Robin Hood,” shows incredible range, very much present for Elton’s various ups and downs. He sings and dances, as well, so that’s particularly tough work all around. But he delivers, whether it’s fleshing out his character’s relationship with manager-lover John Reid (a memorably perplexing Richard Madden), or interpreting the performer in his arena shows.

Also woven carefully into the singer’s backstory are most of his hit songs, including “I’m Still Standing,” “Your Song,” “The Bitch is Back” and, of course, “Rocket Man.” The beauty of it is, even the other cast members get to sing parts of certain songs, and they often snugly fit.

The R-rated “Rocketman” also profoundly examines the sexual journey of the once-closeted chart-topper, offering interesting parallels with Freddie Mercury’s, in a time of denial and homophobia.

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All in all, the film gives light to the oft-controversial music legend, offering a very human tale of struggle and renewal, while exposing bits and pieces of his genius to longtime and new listeners alike.

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TAGS: Elton John, gay singer, Pop Star, Rocketman, Taron Egerton
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