Once upon a time, in a land called the 1970s, a brash young man from England shook up the musical world with outrageous costumes, exaggerated behavior and brilliant music. That Elton John became the sensation of the moment is not surprising, considering how bland a decade that was. What’s thrilling about Sir Elton is how, all these years later, we experience even more admiration for the significance of what he achieved.
If this musical wonder had envisioned his life as a musical movie from MGM’s golden era, the film may have looked, sounded and played a lot like “Rocketman,” a deliciously entertaining revue of the music and memories from John’s miraculous career. Anyone looking for a serious take on the man may be disappointed, just as anyone fearing a repeat of “Bohemian Rhapsody” may be relieved. “Rocketman” wisely avoids trying to tell every chapter in John’s life at the same time it beautifully celebrates the depth, range and meaning of his music.
From the film’s opening, we know we’re in for something special, as if John himself had transported in time to the days of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire on an MGM soundstage. We realize, as the credits close, and an opening number in the style of “La La Land” begins, that this will not be a serious examination of musical ambition or family relationships. Instead we’re transported back in time to a moment when a young boy can escape the realities of his home life in song, a caring grandmother can make anyone feel better with a single touch, and the selfishness of parents can inspire music that will soon become timeless.
We learn, through a series of memorable sequences, how John showed amazing talent as a child musician, quickly became fascinated with melodies in his mind, and seriously questioned his authenticity as a person. Using a predictable flashback device, the film enables John to reflect on his life as he introduces episodes in his music. And embracing its own standard of logical narrative, the film casually places pop songs from the John collection into specific moments in the star’s narrative. The results can be visually dazzling, musically entertaining and emotionally moving.
What makes the film work is its heart, not its lavish costumes or exaggerated moments, but its sincerity at sharing the soul of a man who wants the world to know who he is just as he carefully hides each layer of his being. “Rocketman” captures the complexities of an artist who not only suffers for his art but finds art in his suffering. And our movie experience is that much richer because of all he must musically endure.
How wonderful to savor the rich performance from Taron Egerton as John, well supported by Jamie Bell as his lyricist partner Bernie Taupin, the wondrous sense of visual splendor from director Dexter Fletcher, and the efficient narrative from screenwriter Lee Hall. But the soul and spirit of John himself make “Rocketman” something to celebrate. What a life you have musicalized, Sir. Elton.
Film Nutritional Value: ‘Rocketman’
Content: High. The life and music of Elton John create a magical musical world where delightful characters float across the screen in song and dance.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to John’s musical genius – the strong performance by Taron Egerton and the creative direction by Dexter Fletcher – “Rocketman” soars.
Message: High. The movie reminds us that any day can be brighter when filled with song and dance.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to laugh and smile, and tap your toes to such delightful song and dance, is always relevant.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You will find yourself remembering many moments. This is an ideal film to share with others. But it’s not a film for the entire family.
“Rocketman” is rated R for “language throughout, some drug use, and sexual content.” The film runs 2 hours and 1 minute.
‘Singin’ in the Rain:’ Another joyous musical
For some reason, “Rocketman” reminds me of this 1952 classic.
Not because the subject matter is similar. After all, “Rocketman” celebrates a man’s gift for music while “Singin’ in the Rain” explores an actor’s fear of speaking of film. Still both films share the joy of performance. And make me want to tap my toes.
Do you ever wonder how movies began to talk? You may recall hearing about the thousands of silent films that Hollywood produced in the early 20th century before technicians perfected the use of microphones and sound recordings. What you may not realize — or have forgotten until the release of “The Artist” — is that, for Hollywood, the introduction of sound created turbulence beyond compare.
That’s because the people who looked good enough on the screen to be silent film stars often had voices that were either difficult to listen to, or laden with heavy accents, or simply wrong for the physical presence the performer conveyed. Overnight, careers of silent stars ended, and new performers arrived, as the industry struggled to redefine itself in new terms.
“Singin’ in the Rain” will take you to that wild time in the movie business, in the late 1920s, when the microphone had just been invented. That meant, for the first time, audiences could actually hear movie stars talk, instead of watch them mime in silent films. Well, no surprise, some of their voices didn’t match how they looked, and they had a tough time adjusting from silent to sound. And that’s the funny part.
Such a transition is not only a source for Hollywood trivia but also the ideal foundation for movie humor. This movie is so much fun — and filled with so many wacky characters — that it may produce non-stop laughter from beginning to end. Or at least continuous smiles. Rarely will you experience such a crackling and smart screenplay, perfectly performed by an inspired cast, and beautifully packaged in the best MGM tradition. But watch closely. You need to listen carefully to get what’s going on to enjoy all the fun.
We get to know Don Lockwood, a matinee idol with a sterling voice to match, and Lena Lamont, a glamorous movie queen who speaks nothing like what her appearance would suggest. Her hysterical efforts to talk on film, and how the movie industry reacts, makes for one of the funniest films you will ever experience.
What grounds the film is the truth on which it is based. Fact is, when sound came to the movies, many careers did end, as many with beautiful faces found that audiences expected them to speak just as well. And acting in films with sound was different than the visual experience of silent films. As tastes change so do the expectations of audiences. This movie, as well, is a musical, which means people sing and dance whenever they want to. That can be a lot of fun especially in the hands of such masters as Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Few musical sequences compare to the comic genius of O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” or the tapping dynamics of “Good Morning” or the inspiring romance of the title number.
No matter how much you laugh, “Singin’ in the Rain” will remind you never to “judge a book by its cover” because any package, no matter how appealing, may only be attractive on the surface. And that’s funny, too.
“Singin’ in the Rain” runs 1 hour and 52 minutes, and is available to stream online.