Elton John biopic ‘Rocketman’ blasts off with Taron Egerton impressively at the controls

I remember when rock was young,

Me and Suzie had so much fun…

But the biggest kick I ever got, circa half a century ago, was driving up from Wichita to Kansas City (6-hour round trip) in August 1973 for the Yellow Brick Road Tour concert at Arrowhead Stadium. Rock ‘n’ roll lovers in those days — largely stoned and demoralized by the Joplin-Hendrix-Morrison deaths, the Beatles’ divorce and the endless Vietnam War — were ripe for a kinder, gentler and glitzier phenomenon called Elton John.

Succeeding generations have found him no less appealing, as we see in “Rocketman,” director Dexter Fletcher’s vision, “based on a true fantasy” of EJ’s life and music in his breakthrough years. Flashbacks introduce us to pudgy young outcast Reginald Dwight, a budding pianist in Middlesex, who migrates to London, where he (Taron Egerton) and lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) find one another through a trade paper ad in 1967. They will love and work with each other — platonically — for life.




  • Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard.
  • Rating: R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.

The film’s efforts to capture their collaborative magic comes, appropriately, with the creation of “Your Song” — their first big syrupy hit — in 1970, followed by EJ’s conquest of the U.S. Ignited by his spectacular gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, things musical and personal get sexier, with boys as well as girls. The sexuality of extravagantly flamboyant performers is becoming less of a big deal: When Elton finally calls his mum to say he’s gay, she and his dad are watching Liberace on TV.

“Do you know how disappointing it is to be your mother?” says Bryce Dallas Howard, in one of the all-time greatest mommy-from-hell guilt trip lines.

The tearful parental rapprochement, a la Freddie Mercury et al. rock stars, is pretty obligatory. So are their decadent lifestyles and the pitfalls of wealth and fame — chief among them, drugs and booze. Fletcher, who ably completed “Bohemian Rhapsody” after Bryan Singer’s departure, now seems to be the go-to director for rock ‘n’ roll biopics. As such, seeking ways to distinguish “Rocketman” from “Rhapsody,” he fits EJ’s songs to the events on screen, beautifully filming and editing them, especially the “Rocket Man” sequence.

Some, over the years, have interpreted, “I’m not the man they think I am at home,” coupled with the song’s rocket-phallic imagery, as clear clues of gayness. Well, maybe. Anyway, you can test your own and your friends’ EJ bona fides with this question: What’s the last line of the chorus right after that: “Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man…” ? (Answer at end of the review.)

Egerton’s depiction of this charismatic character is infused with eclectic electricity. He does all his own singing. EJ said not to copy him too much but make the songs his own — and he has done so. He’d be a likely Oscar candidate for next year, but less likely for this year’s Rami Malek win. This is the second Egerton-Fletcher collaboration after “Eddie the Eagle” (2015), a charming story of the underdog British ski jumper at the 1988 Olympics.

EJ’s gospel-chorded rock songs and poignant ballads get better and better — from “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer” on the “Madman Across the Water” album through “Yellow Brick Road’s” title tune and “Bennie and the Jets,” while he and his glam rock outfits get wilder and campier. His international status would soar to intergalactic heights with the 1997 funeral performance and re-dedication of “Candle In the Wind” to Princess Diana. He’s celebrating 29 years of sobriety since his 1990 rehab.

Fletcher’s film is similarly celebrating his music, his keyboard virtuosity and his sublimely sweet voice — not to mention his sequins, his eyeglasses and his boots. More feel-good than revelatory, it opens Friday, in the middle of EJ’s marathon “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” three-year retirement tour (2018-21) — 300 shows on five continents — including a Pittsburgh gig on Nov. 13, for which tickets range from $200 to $2,700 (median $475) apiece.

“I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind” — the prices, or the fact that EJ at 72 is looking more and more like Dame Edna these days.

Icons can look — and charge — whatever they want.

Pop quiz answer, which took me 30 years and the invention of Google to discover: “Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.”

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: parispg48@aol.com.

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