Rocketman opens with Elton John bursting through a doorway and striding towards us in a flaming orange devil costume, complete with horned headpiece and towering wings, as if about to take centre stage. Instead he enters dimly lit rehab, declaring himself an alcoholic, cocaine addict, sex addict, bulimic, shopaholic and more.
He sees his younger self in a corner of the room and starts singing. The boy sings too and the scene changes to 1950s England, with everyone on the street dancing to The Bitch Is Back.
And so our journey through the highs and lows of Elton's wild life begins - flitting back and forth between a dreary childhood and the rocky road to stardom.
Rocketman takes the form of an extravagant musical fantasy, with tunes selected to suit the mood rather than any kind of chronological order, some playing at points before they'd even been written. Candle in the Wind at Elton's first official audition a case in point.
The timeline was also creative at times for the sake of the story... the filmmakers have said this film is not a factually correct biography and that they took some liberties:
“What I care about is capturing moments cinematically and musically,” director Dexter Fletcher told Rolling Stone. “I have to take artistic license, which is what Elton said I should do. He’s a creative, artistic person and that’s the way we approached it.”
Visually, the film is rather charming, instilling a sense of nostalgia that immediately drew me in. The slightly washed out colour palette of the flashbacks is reminiscent of 70s style photographs; ditto the fashion... and the decor in Elton's childhood home looks just like my grandmother's. This is of course interspersed with sequins, glamour and an absolute riot of colour, as vibrant as the music throughout.
Fletcher's film captures a great sense of creative intimacy between Elton John and lyricist friend and confidante, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), in contrast to that with somewhat slimy manager and lover, John Reid (Richard Madden). Taron Egerton's performance as Elton was outstanding. Hand-picked by the man himself to play him in Rocketman, he threw himself into the role magnificently, even singing his own songs.
To be honest, I'd set the bar low for this movie after spotting some negative reviews, so was surprised to find it pleasantly enjoyable. It's been criticised as being overly glossy, without enough tantrums and tiaras, but I beg to differ.
"Maybe I should have been more ordinary."
Rocketman is an honest account of the depths that Elton sank to, the struggle to win his parents' approval and adapt to life in the limelight, feeling like a farce, unloved and unaccepted by his family and society. I would have liked to see more focus on his first marriage, subsequent coming out and meeting his husband, David Furnish (the film's producer). It does, however have its fair share of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll:
"Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG-13 rating. But I just haven’t led a PG-13 rated life. I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a lot of both during the 70s and 80s, so there didn’t seem to be much point in making a movie that implied that after every gig, I’d quietly gone back to my hotel room with only a glass of warm milk and the Gideon’s Bible for company." Elton John, The Guardian
The music in the film was fantastic and it's worth seeing for that alone, even if (like me) you're not Elton's biggest ever fan. The storyline was touching and I loved the reminder of some brilliant hits from Tiny Dancer to I'm Still Standing. Rocketman's riot of high emotion juxtaposed with an overdose of glamour is most definitely best enjoyed on the big screen.