his tale of Elton John’s early years begins as he walks out of a concert at Madison Square Garden dressed as an orange and red phoenix, jumps into a cab and checks himself into rehab. Sitting in the costume in group treatment, he begins telling his life story in flashback. Elton John once again becomes a young introvert in post World War II England longing for his mother’s love and his father’s attention. “Hello, my name is Elton and I am an alcoholic, cocaine abuser, sex addict, compulsive shopper and bulimic.”
As a child, Reginald ‘Reggie’ Dwight (Taron Egerton) is raised by his cold, self-absorbed, philandering mother, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and more caring grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones), while his detached father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) is away serving in the Royal Air Force. Reggie shows interest in the piano, playing by ear and from memory. His grandmother gets him a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music. Stanley, who has never showed any love toward his son, eventually abandons his family after Sheila has an affair. From Sheila’s boyfriend, Reggie is introduced to rock music and Elvis Presley, and as a young teenager begins performing in local pubs before joining a cover band, Bluesology, and traveling on an American R&B tour.
As an adult, Reggie changes his name to Elton John and tries to find success with Dick James’ publishing company under the management of Ray Williams (Charlie Rowe). Williams introduces Elton to songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and the two quickly form a friendship, with Taupin accepting both Elton and his homosexuality. The duo impresses James with the tune “Your Song” and he books them with Doug Weston (Tate Donovan) at the 1960s Troubadour in Los Angeles.
The audience loves Elton’s over-the-top performance. At a drug-fueled afterparty at Mama Cass’s house, Elton feels abandoned when Taupin leaves him to be with a woman. Elton is approached by John Reid (Richard Madden), a music manager who is attracted to Elton. They share a one-night stand and later reunite. Reid’s influence over Elton causes him to spiral into a life of debauchery as his career takes off and he becomes at 25 a multi-millionaire superstar, embracing a flamboyant stage persona. We flashback to therapy and see that he sheds the layers of the stage costume as he reveals his authentic self to those in the group session.
By the end of the film, the audience has come full circle with Elton. We have shared the rejection of the young Dwight, witnessed the birth of Elton and become part of his rebirth as his unravels his past in order to live to his future. Can he resolve his crippling relationship with his mother and forgive the hurts and rejections? Will he be able to break away from the abusive manager? What of his formerly deep friendship with Bernie Taupin? Months in rehab unable to play the piano or compose come to an end when Bernie brings him an envelope of new lyrics. Yes, Elton returns clear-headed and happy with his true self.
Fueled by his music catalog, the songs take on a deeper meaning when seen in the life context in which they were written. The movie over 10 years in the making covers only approximately the first 30 years or so of his life. Taron Egerton was handpicked by Elton to sing the soundtrack and bring his story to the screen. He presents a masterful award-worthy performance. This is a trip down the yellow brick road that should not be missed.
“Rocketman” is rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.