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Rocketman

Spoliers? Are you kidding? Who doesn’t know about Elton John? Familiarity with his music, and a growing appreciation of his present day style, had me thinking I might pass on this one. That would have been a HUGE mistake. On and off throughout this film I made comparisons to La La Land, which had none of Rocketman’s brilliance. Yes, I liked some of the dance numbers in LLL, but they are mediocre compared to Rocketman, especially Saturday Night’s exuberance. This is what a ‘Hollywood’ musical is all about and hasn’t been seen in way too long.

Elton John’s stage persona was/is bigger than life, but that becomes secondary in this homage to his music and Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. At some point it becomes apparent that Taupin’s lyrics are so well-woven into this story about Elton’s life and his eventual triumph over addiction, loneliness, and self-hate that it leaves one awed. And somewhat overwhelmed by the writing and production as a whole.

Look for Taron Egerton’s name in the Oscar nominations and on the fast track to win. (Haven’t seen the rest of the year’s contenders, so not sure about his ‘win’ yet.) All of the performances are superb. Richard Madden is deliciously vicious as a soul-sucking user. The always marvelous Gemma Jones warms the heart as his grandmother. Steven Macintosh as Elton’s father is a heartless creep, and Jamie Bell is subtle and true as the faithful Bernie Taupin. Elton’s brash mother is wonderfully done by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard. (Remember her as pie-eating Hilly in The Help?)

A reason for my initial hesitation to see this film was because of inaccuracies that usually accompany biopics. Then I learned that Elton was a producer. NPR interviewed him a few years back. He talked about his mother being a gunner in WWII, the influence of the Royal Academy of Music, the happiness he’s enjoying now.

For many this will be a dance down memory lane to what you were doing, or where you were, when you heard each song. Tiny Dancer shot me back to younger years in LA at the parties that went all night, sometimes for days, and the look in Bernie Taupin’s face when he said that the next day he’d be going to Paradise Cove. Back then, it was a private beach, placid and gorgeous. Now, it’s paved over, impersonal, clogged with gawkers, much like Elton’s life was about to become after that party.

Since this is a musical, something must be said about the music. Giles Martin deserves every speck of attention that must be given to what he has created with the score of this film. He has done everything possible to enhance the genius of Elton’s music without being intrusive. It’s voluptuous, reverent, electrifying and eloquent as required. He does what the very best accompanist does and that is provide a safe platform for the vocalist to shine.

Don’t run to see this film. Slap on a rocket and blast off. Elton would appreciate that kind of entrance.

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

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