Rock star Elton John (Taron Egerton) has suffered over a decade of addictions - to alcohol, cocaine, food, shopping, and more - and has decided enough is enough, so stomps off in his platform heels to rehab, in full stage regalia. On sitting down among his fellow addicts, he begins his story, starting with his childhood in London where he grew up under his parents' troubled marriage and the feeling that he was not going to get the love he needed from these two people who brought him into the world. He did have a supportive grandmother, who noted his talent with the piano and encouraged him into lessons, which led to a scholarship and eventual blossoming as a writer and performer...
But was he happy? He was happy when he produced this film with his husband David Furnish, having finally settled down after all that debauchery to start a family of his own, as if he wanted to do the whole parents thing properly, unlike actual relatives, and that mixture of guilt and resentment fuelled the drama in his biopic, directed by Dexter Fletcher who had recently rescued the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. The impression was that the Freddie story had been shortchanged by smoothing over some glaring and uncomfortable aspects of its subject's life, while Elton's story was far more authentic in this telling, and therefore the better picture.
It probably was since we got a lot more men kissing and simulating sex acts together, but despite this supposedly near the knuckle material there was a lot dispiritingly conventional about Rocketman (not to be confused with the Disney sci-fi comedy of a few years before). Fair enough, Elton (you just have to use his first name) had settled down into national treasure status and a comfy, if lavish, domesticity and Las Vegas residency, so was no longer the unlikely wild man of piano rock as a white, seventies Little Richard, but that lengthy era of his career had proven he had a spark of madness in him that boosted his material miles away from someone like Gilbert O'Sullivan.
You would search in vain for the streak of the crazy, the inspiration of the recklessly talented, in this biopic, which needed a Ken Russell to do the man justice, a director who was as wayward and ingenious as Elton and his best writing partner, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, not so bad) could be in combination. Russell had of course directed him in The Who's rock opera Tommy, which whatever else it may be was not subdued or sensible, and that approach would have been more satisfying: ditch the leaden dialogue scenes and let's have wall-to-wall music, then you would have had a treat for the senses, even if Elton was not performing the tunes himself. That was another issue: Egerton never came across as inhabiting the real persona, you were always aware it was Egerton you were hearing and watching.
Therefore, Rocketman was more about one film star's struggle to be taken seriously as a singer and thespian once you boiled it down, rather than a tribute to the power of Elton's stagecraft and way with a catchy tune. There's no doubt he had his demons, and that was down to problems with his parents at least part of the way, but we never got to the heart of the anguish that would lead someone hitting success in a big way to try and take their own life, it merely fed into setpiece musical numbers that were operating on a level of imagination that was not going to alienate any middle of the road fan who liked his Kiki Dee duet, but had never delved into the darker areas of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy or the star's more complex albums from his first flush of success. It was not so much that there was a mad, magnificent film struggling to get out, more there was a mediocre run-through struggling to get out, and too often managing it. Despite the gay scenes, this was far too ordinary for a far from ordinary man, made by solid talents rather than those touched by the pixilated.