ROCKETMAN – Review by Susan Granger

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Make no mistake: this jukebox musical/quasi-biopic offers little insight into the cryptic character of flamboyant Elton John.

But as a campy musical – one that’s probably destined for Broadway – it’s ambitious – with 20 familiar songs, cleverly interwoven to cleverly depict significant sequences in the life of Reginald Kenneth Dwight, a pudgy musical protégé from suburban Middlesex, England.

Mixing fantasy with R-rated reality, it begins in 1990 in rehab, where Elton (Taron Egerton) is struggling to come to grips with his self-absorbed mother, militaristic father and love-deprived childhood, along with repressed sexual orientation at a time when “homosexual” was a still a whispered word.

“I’m an alcoholic, a cocaine addict, a sex addict, a bulimic and a shopaholic,” he confesses. And the rest of the film serves to illustrate all of that. Nothing is sanitized, but it is somewhat romanticized.

Working from an impressionistic, melodramatic script by Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”), actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher stages splashy musical numbers. That’s his strength; he took over directing “Bohemian Rhapsody” after Bryan Singer was fired.

Problem is: while Elton John wrote the music, Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics. And Fletcher uses Taupin’s lyrics to illustrate Elton’s emotional journey and why could never really love himself. That’s confusing.

Taron means ‘thunder’ in Welsh, and Egerton delivers a convincing, powerhouse performance, singing every song. Coincidentally, when he auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London many years ago, he sang Elton John’s “Your Song.”

At his side as Bernie Taupin, Jamie Bell is intelligently intense and poignant as Elton’s “true brother”/collaborator. Completing the ensemble, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh and Richard Madden are equally impressive, as is costume designer Julian Day.

Fact-checking: while he took ‘Elton’ from his Bluesology bandmate Elton Dean, he did not choose ‘John’ from John Lennon; instead it came from his mentor Long John Baldry. And he didn’t flee from a Madison Square Garden concert to go into rehab dressed as a horned demon.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Rocketman” is an extravagant, excessive 8. Sparkly fun.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.