Almost twenty years before this film’s release, Elton John’s ‘This Train Don't Stop There Anymore’ had the singer ruefully looking back on his past glories. The video clip accompanying the song featured Justin Timberlake as the 1970’s version of Elton lip-syncing to Bernie Taupin’s lyrics while Pee-Wee Herman depicts an obnoxious John Reid. Rocketman takes two hours to tell basically the same story and though it should fare better with the paying public, it is equally less than the sum of its parts.
Bookended by John telling his story to fellow members of a rehab clinic, the film touches base with the singer's career highs and personal lows. A scholarship with the Royal Academy of Music, a successful partnership with Bernie Taupin and fame as an international pop-star are offset by uncaring parents, a manipulative lover and an addiction to drugs, alcohol and… shopping.
One of the pitfalls of depicting a musician’s life is shoehorning their songs into the film’s plot. Rocketman tackles this challenge in a variety of ways, some more successful than others. There are joyfully presented song and dance numbers, intimate songs depicting the creative process and lavish concert performances. Yet the biopic is on less secure ground when it attempts to use John's songbook to propel the plot forward or to evoke a character’s emotions. Compounded with a heightened fantasy, the result leaves the film with an overall detached feel.
One of the best adaptions of Taupin's lyrics takes place early in the film, as various members of the Dwight family sing 'I Want Love'. Incidentally, the video clip accompanying that song’s release featured Robert Downey Jr standing in for Elton John.
"...the point of [Rocketman] was to make something that was like my life: chaotic, funny, mad, horrible, brilliant and dark. It’s obviously not all true, but it’s the truth.
Movie suggests that Reginald Dwight took his stage name from combining the name of John Lennon with that of his fellow Bluesology band member Elton Dean, whereas the John actually derives from another Bluesology band member, Long John Baldry.
Only reference to Elton John’s film work is a concert performance of Tommy’s ‘Pinball Wizard’.