I have never been the biggest fan of Elton John. There are a couple of songs of his that I like, but otherwise I have never really been entertained by him. This is nothing against the man, personally. As a practicing Catholic, I do not necessarily agree with his lifestyle. For the most part, I just do not like his music. Yet the only other option this weekend was Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and I was in the mood for something a little more weighty, particularly in the wake of Brightburn. So I saw Rocketman.
Of course, the opening shot in Rocketman, with Elton John (Taryn Edgerton) dressed as the devil, certainly did not draw sympathy from this Catholic. Further working against this movie, to this reviewer’s own personal tastes, was the fact that it is a musical. I guess I should have guessed this part given it is a biopic about a musician. Suddenly the monster movie was seeming like the better idea.
Yet I stuck with Rocketman, if for no other reason than I had ordered myself a slice of pizza and a funnel cake and I did not want to transport them to another movie theater. And in the end, I am glad I stayed put. Where I connected to the movie was in the struggles that Elton John went through in his search to be loved. That desire, as my faith teaches us, is central to what makes us human. In all the relationships that Elton John pursues throughout the film, he is seeking genuine love. I would tell him that the only place to find is in Jesus, but he does not see things that way, as is obvious.
The deeper you go in Rocketman, though, the more it becomes the expected tale of fame and fortune ruining the life of Elton John née Reginald Dwight. Our culture, and this rings true in the film, offers a glittering facade that doing whatever makes you feel good will lead to your ultimate happiness, an idea backed up by the line from his first manager, Dick James (Stephen Graham) who advises to do whatever he likes “Just don’t kill yourself with drugs.” It should come as no surprise, then, that Elton John nearly manages to do the very thing he was warned not to do, and he does it because he chases after all that is specious in the world, namely the fame and fortune that he once so craved.
The one hard, true lesson that Rocketman can teach everyone is that by trying to please everyone, by playing to the crowd, in the end it leads to self-hate. As is made abundantly clear throughout the film, Elton John had a rough life, and as a result he often sought out the true love he was lacking in all the wrong places. The addictions he picked up along the way were the lies that he told himself to keep going. In the end, he got himself back together not through faith (although he did get into rehab, and faith is the basis for the original “twelve steps”), but by confronting the lies he had been feeding himself (also one of the “twelve steps”). His final lesson was simply to embrace who he is, and there is a strength in that idea. I could not imagine doing that without God, but I wish Elton John all the luck in the world in continuing with his sobriety.
There were a few scenes in Rocketman that I frankly had to shut my eyes during, though it was not nearly as bad as the “R” rating might suggest. If you are a fan of Elton John’s music, and musicals for that matter, it is worth seeing, though be prepared for some things you may not want to see.