Godzilla vs. Elton John
By Michael S. Goldberger
I actually wanted to see the new “Godzilla.” Not that I’m a big fan of the franchise. Maybe it’s the kid in me…or perhaps because the early stuff was so hokey and so terribly dubbed that it was entertaining. Composed of poorly constructed miniatures and the barest of plots, it was probably the hyper suspension of disbelief engendered in us moppets that stirred our imaginations more than the calamitous perpetrations themselves. My curiosity was up. Hence, as the time approached to decide if it’d be “Rocketman” or “Godzilla” this week, the Japanese nomenclature became my recurring word of the day. “Gojira! Gojira!” I repeated in anticipation of the monster’s approach. It would sort of be like going back to the old neighborhood to see how things may have modernized. “Gojira” I murmured. But then I punked out.
Yeah, the adult said to the adolescent, ‘Lose the indulgence. ‘Rocketman’ is more significant than a plastic behemoth that levels entire cityscapes with one giant wag of his tale. Who needs that, anyway?’ So I saw “Rocketman.” Such are life-changing decisions. While certainly not as important as whether to become a film critic or Secretary of State, choices do have their consequences and, serendipitously, this latest selection also worked out just fine. Harvesting edifying revelations and soulful divulgences galore, director Dexter Fletcher’s biopic tells you everything you didn’t even think to ask about Elton John …that is, unless you’re a devout aficionado of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite rocker.
The biggest surprise is that Elton John as most of us have perceived him, major songwriter and performer extraordinaire, is technically only one-half of the illustrious hit-making dynamo that gave us iconic tunes like the one for which this superbly entertaining film is titled. Think Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lennon and McCartney. While “Rocketman” doesn’t delve into lyricist Bernie Taupin’s biographical details the way it so pervasively deconstructs Mr. John, it dramatically informs that this silent partner was the wordsmith and collaborating catalyst who made it possible for Elton to realize his musical genius.
Attaching the innumerable, chart-topping songs strewn throughout the screenplay to the often tragic path Elton John traversed on his way to international stardom, director Fletcher, working from a screenplay by Lee Hall, amazes us with the prolificacy of his subject. But while the traditional storytelling style oft used in movies about composers is familiar, there is an individualistic verve that cuts right to the nerve of who this film says Elton John is. Alas, the phenom is the once unloved little boy of absurdly selfish and clueless parents. Oh sure, you think, it’d be great to have all that money and fame, Gojira no longer on your mind. But assuming you had a great childhood, would you trade it for Elton John’s debatable consolation prize?
Sharing a bit of DNA from any and all motion pictures about the rocky road to rock-‘n’-roll eminence, there’s the required amount of limousines, disingenuous lovers, corrupt agents, booze, drugs and the ever-fearful insecurity that comes of sudden success. But while such is afforded compulsory lip service, the central theme is neither the wiles, joys nor seductive decadences of showbiz, but rather, the Rocketman’s relentless and dishearteningly unsuccessful search for love. All of which makes us give a hoot when he falls victim to the shiny temptations …which he does with as much masochistic efficacy as any of his peers. Taron Egerton is so award-worthy credible, both in voice and thespic impersonation, that we nearly forget it’s not Elton John playing himself.
Here’s the deal. Despite the global cynicism that’s concealing the better essence of humanity like the candy shell on a Jordan almond, our heartfelt interest belies the cold protective mechanism of the sardonic worldview foisted on us by misanthropes and profiteers. This film is a big hit. And what’s it about? Love! People liking and needing each other…a lot. Quite a commodity, you know. Gadzooks, man…the poets have been telling us about it for millennia. But the firmest truth of it was permanently jolted into my brain during that rare, memorable instance when I had a drink with Mom. Despondent over my recent loss of a battle in the war between the sexes, I questioningly agonized over the power of love. Intent on dispelling any uncertainties I held, Dora Goldberger looked me in the face and succinctly informed, “People kill for it.” Aside from wondering, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ I knew I was now playing in the majors.
Thus, because of its celebrated songbook and heartrending meditation on the search for love, I emphatically endorse “Rocketman” before setting my moviegoing trajectory for “Godzilla II: King of the Monsters,” and wonder if I’ll construe ‘tis also amour that motivates the beast.
“Rocketman,” rated R, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Dexter Fletcher and stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell and Richard Madden. Running time: 121 minutes