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Rocketman

Year: 2019
Studio: Paramount
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Producer: Elton John/David Furnish/Matthew Vaughan
Writer: Lee Hall
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham

Without knowing about the dust-up that occurred behind the scenes when disgraced original director Bryan Singer was ousted from Bohemian Rhapsody and Dexter Fletcher bought in to complete it, you might assume Fletcher had learnt his lesson from the many reviews about how tepid and procedural (however financially successful) the Queen biopic was. Rocketman is a much more fanciful beast that uses visuals to embellish and further enliven Elton's life story.

When an entire fairground crowd falls into line with him to sing Saturday Night's Alright (to camera, like it's a concert), or he reaches the 'laaaaaa, la la la la la' bit of Crocodile Rock at the historic Troubador West Hollywood performance and floats into the air for a near-silent refrain along with the audience, Fletcher makes it clear what kind of biopic this is. Great music, the Troubador performance makes visually metaphorical, lifts us up.

The framing device is Elton (Taron Edgerton, who looks and sounds nothing like the star but gives a great and grandiose performance) arriving at an AA meeting in one of his most ostentatious outfits of horns, heels and sequins. As he sits and engages with the sad, lost souls around the circle he's all confident bluster, having spent his successful years shielded from pain thanks to riches, stardom and adulation.

But as he starts to talk and we visit episodes in Elton's life, we see why he's so hurt and why he papers it over with substances and a crazy pace of life. There's his working class upbringing in the UK – one seemingly destined not to allow an outlet for his prodigious talent – to his meeting longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), to his struggles with alcohol, drugs and love that coincided with his rise to the top of the charts.

But the dramatic rub is revealed in just two or so scenes that depict Reg Dwight's father, a man who never really cared about him for reasons that aren't explored, and his slightly more loving but ditzy mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), a woman only too happy to make Reggie collateral damage in her war with her husband. If you scratch away all the sequins, money and drugs it's a tale about a boy who only wanted a Dad to love him and never got it.

I probably missed all the nuances of how the style suited Elton's character that resulted in the reviews I've read (plenty of positive ones, but a noticeable number of negative ones too) because I knew almost nothing about him, and I think that no matter how self contained a movie this is, Fletcher and writer Lee Hall (as well as the real Elton as a producer) made it for John fans.

But it perfectly suits the persona we all know of the public Elton John – brash, stylish and chaotic, and unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, it made better use of the medium of cinema than just pointing a camera at a plot that ticked boxes.

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