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May 17, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

At the opening of Rocketman, director Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic, the singer, played by Taron Egerton, is seen tromping into a group-therapy session in full feather-and-sequins regalia, flopping onto a seat, and then beginning to recite an account of his troubled childhood. The rest of the film amounts to a series of flashbacks. It’s not a particularly novel approach to biographical story-telling on film, but, combined with a full-bore rock-and-roll soundtrack and glitzy production numbers, it works, critics seemed to agree following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (out of competition).

Elton John at Cannes

Robbie Collin, film critic for the London Daily Telegraph, bestowed five stars on the movie, calling it “a heart-racing, toe-tapping, all-glitter-cannons-blazing triumph.” But other critics seemed to feel that screenwriter Lee Hall was so determined to devise pertinent connections in the dialogue to John’s music that he wound up providing us only a partial glimpse of the person behind all that razzle-dazzle. As Peter Debruge remarked in Variety: “Whatever compelled Reginald Dwight to become Elton John was probably a lot more complicated than simply not getting enough hugs from his father.” Or as Peter Bradshaw observed in Britain’s Guardian: “Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton John’s music and his public image. But the man [him]self eluded it.”

Perhaps a sequel will atone for that omission. The film only covers John’s early life and initial success. While it doesn’t flinch from including a love scene with his former manager, John Reid, and their subsequent falling out, it makes no mention of David Furnish, the man who became his husband and reportedly was the instigator of this biopic. (He and John are credited as producers.) One of the earliest musical film biographies was 1947’s The Jolson Story, about entertainer Al Jolson. It was so successful that it was followed two years later by Jolson Sings Again. Perhaps it won’t be such a long, long time ’til touchdown brings Rocketman round again.