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Return to the Yellow Brick Road
By Rachel Rivenbark
Having been raised from the crib on the music of Sir Elton John, as well as being a longtime fan of actor Taron Egerton, I was understandably thrilled to learn last year that a film starring Egerton was due to be released surrounding the life of the famed musician. Although the film had been described by actors and producers alike as more of a “fantasy musical” than a biopic, and it takes quite a few liberties with the reality surrounding certain small details, Rocketman has also largely been described as a very faithful representation of Elton’s perspective on his childhood and rise to stardom.
Beginning with a beautiful orchestral instrumentalization of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” the film quickly kicks into a fast-paced, fully-choreographed rendition of “The Bitch is Back,” in which Elton’s younger self quite literally leads him down the path to his own childhood, eventually leading to Egerton smoothly swinging into the role during an energized. The film maintains this musical format throughout all the rest of the film, smoothly incorporating many of Elton’s key hit numbers at appropriate times throughout the plot, adding depth to every song and every scene. The final song within the film, a joyous recreation of Elton’s “I’m Still Standing” music video, brings the movie full circle in not only ending on the high note of Elton’s recovery from addiction, but also in being the very same song which lead actor Taron Egerton first performed only a few short years ago, in the 2016 animated musical Sing.
Having been specifically instructed by Elton himself to use his natural voice and talent as a guide for performing in Rocketman rather than attempting an exact impersonation, Egerton delivers a stunning performance as Elton all throughout the film, at times seeming nearly indistinguishable from the man himself. While certain songs are certainly given a unique spin through Egerton, others show his clear grasp upon Elton’s character and musical style. Most notably, Egerton’s soft and emotional delivery of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for “Your Song,” despite being one of the most calm and lowkey moments in the film, also proves to easily be one of the most beautiful scenes, displaying clearly for audiences the love and respect that Elton and Bernie have for each other’s work.
It was an extremely refreshing change of pace to see the primary relationship depicted in a film as being one of platonic love and enduring loyalty between two men - a gay man and a straight man, at that. Too often in cinema, even today, films often depict relationships between men as being very subdued and unaffectionate, yet the decades-long friendship depicted between Elton and Taupin doesn’t shy away from the emotional or physical affection between the two, showing them as holding hands, hugging, kissing cheeks, and proclaiming how much they love each other numerous times throughout the film.
That said, tumultuous though the sexual and romantic relationship between Elton and his manager John Reid is depicted as being in the film, Rocketman also broached entirely new territory by being the first film from a large studio to show a borderline explicit sex scene between two men - later, also delving into a musically choreographed and non-explicit, but nevertheless blatant orgy scene set to “Benny and the Jets.” In many ways, this film has managed to cross boundaries and set new standards for content in mainstream media, hopefully opening the door for further bold and representative content in films in the future.
While it may not have the same emotional impact that the 2018 box office Goliath that was Bohemian Rhapsody had upon audiences, Rocketman nevertheless manages to take similar subject matter - the confrontation of sexuality, the sudden rise to stardom, and the prevalence of addiction in the music industry - as well as the presumably uncomplimentary genres of biopic and musical, and to make of them an entirely unique, engaging, and overall delightful film that can proudly take a place alongside Ray, Amadeus, Sid and Nancy, and yes, even Bohemian Rhapsody.
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