Song of the Day #3,995: ‘Your Song’ – Taron Egerton

This has been a week for conflicted movie reviews. I enjoy these films and recommend them, but with reservations. I guess that describes about half of the movies I see every year.

Rocketman is a biopic about legendary rocker Elton John, directed by Dexter Fletcher (who took over the reins of Bohemian Rhapsody from Bryan Singer), starring Taron Egerton, and produced by Elton himself. That last fact is key, because you have to be a little wary of a film purporting to be a “warts and all” depiction when it is delivered by the subject himself.

On that front, though, Rocketman is quite satisfying. While the story’s villains (John’s parents and his lover/manager) are painted in very broad strokes, the film doesn’t let him off the hook. It explores his selfishness and drug abuse (among other addictions), and doesn’t shy away from painting him as a rather unpleasant person for much of its running time.

I could have done without an end credits slideshow detailing John’s later philanthropic and humanitarian efforts, but there is no question the man has been a major force for good in the world so I can’t begrudge him pointing that out.

Egerton is phenomenal in the lead role. He captures both the outward flamboyance and the wounded center of Elton John, and he nails every musical number. This is a truly star-making performance. It’s a shame Rami Malek won the Best Actor Oscar for a similar role last year because the Academy might be wary of going back to that well. But Egerton belongs in the mix, no question.

Bryce Dallas Howard is an interesting (and ultimately effective) casting choice as John’s mother, and Richard Madden gives a devilish turn as John Reid, John’s toxic lover turned manager (interestingly, the same character appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, portrayed by Aiden Gillen, who — like Madden — is a veteran of Game of Thrones).

Jamie Bell delivers the film’s best supporting turn with his portrayal of Bernie Taupin, John’s longtime lyricist and friend. Their collaboration is the film’s central relationship, and at times the movie plays like a delightful rom-com. Indeed, Rocketman loses a bit of steam when Bell disappears from the narrative.

The unique nature of John and Taupin’s partnership — Elton writes the music, Bernie writes the lyrics — muddles the film’s message at times. Some songs are depicted as having particular meaning in John’s life, as if he penned them to exorcise inner demons, when in fact he never wrote a word. This is another reason I wish Taupin’s role in the film were larger.

My two other nitpicks with Rocketman are contradictory, and leave me wondering if my ideal version of this film is even possible.

On the one hand, I have grown weary of musical biopic tropes and too often the film falls back into those easy clichés. How can any movie do the ‘headlines about a meteoric rise to fame float by superimposed over a medley of live performances’ thing and expect it to be taken seriously? And the whole ‘start from nowhere, rise high, fall hard, find redemption’ arc is so familiar it was parodied over a decade ago in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. When it’s in that mode, and it often is — Rocketman feels tired.

But to its credit, the musical numbers depart from the formula and embrace surrealism. Think Moulin Rouge, Across the Universe and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Magical realist touches like an audience literally levitating during a stage performance or a fairground full of people breaking into a choreographed dance routine are welcome and exhilarating.

That said, one of the main reasons I want to see an Elton John biopic is to hear the music of Elton John. Given Egerton’s performance, including very effective vocals that evoke John’s without feeling like an imitation, I would be 100% thrilled to hear him belt out these songs. But too often the songs are filtered through other characters. Little Elton John sings ‘The Bitch is Back.’ Ma, pa and grandma trade verses on ‘I Want Love.’ Robb Stark duets on ‘Honky Cat.’ Little Elton John comes back to kick off ‘Rocket Man.’

And too many other classics (‘Daniel,’ ‘Take Me to the Pilot,’ ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,’ ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’) are heard only in snippets.

It’s no accident that my two favorite moments from Rocketman combine the Taupin/John relationship and unmolested versions of those wonderful songs. In one, John sings ‘Tiny Dancer’ while watching Taupin abandon him for a woman at a Los Angeles party.

In the other, the film’s finest scene and today’s SOTD, John sits down at the family piano and composes the music for ‘Your Song’ while Taupin looks on. Quiet and intimate, it’s a depiction of John’s musical genius and the tender bond between these two men, and a truly magical moment.

[Verse 1]
It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money, but, boy, if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live
If I was a sculptor, heh, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show
I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song, and this one’s for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

[Verse 2]
I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well, a few of the verses, well, they’ve got me quite cross
But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song
It’s for people like you that keep it turned on
So excuse me forgetting, but these things I do
You see, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue
Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,995: ‘Your Song’ – Taron Egerton

  1. Maddie says:

    This articulates most of my thoughts on the film as well. I know I was about as biased as could be walking in with my huge love of Taron, but I certainly wasn’t blind to some of the issues (none attributed to my boy).

    On second viewing, I realized how much I love the character of Ray and felt his absence in that final stretch as well.

    I feel like the biopic is somewhat suffering as a genre from trying to cover such huge swaths of the subject’s life. I actually give some kudos to Bohemian for electing to conclude with Live Aid rather than push to the very end. In some ways I think a Bernie/Reggie film that remained in their early to mid songwriting years would have made a far more touching and unique film.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    I agree with all of the comments both you and Maddie made.

    With regard to the biopic/fantasy issue, I had far less of a problem with the fantastical scenes. It didn’t really bother me to have other characters singing Elton’s song or those songs being done years earlier than they were actually written because, in fantasy mode, you can suspend belief, reality and chronological constructs. Also, Taupin wrote many lyrics in the voice of Elton or trying to reflect Elton’s experiences. One notable exception was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which Taupin wrote to express his own feelings about wanting to leave the Elton circus life and go home. So, it’s wholly fitting to have Taupin to sing that one in the movie.

    My greater problems came in the realism scenes, particularly when songs were sung out of sequence – the most glaring example being Elton doing snippets of songs for the record producer. Had the scene been given a fantasy spin, I would have understood Elton playing hit songs written decades later to underscore the absurdity of the producer’s opinions that those songs could never be hits. However, the scene was played straight and, in that mode, why not just play snippets of other songs written at the time that probably weren’t as immediately accessible as “Your Song?” Meanwhile, despite the take down on the producer, it turns out he did know a thing or two by recognizing just how great and marketable “Your Song” was.

    Anyway, as you say, some of this is nit picky because, overall, I felt the movie worked more often than it didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and the performances, especially Of Taron, who I agree deserves Oscar consideration.

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    Yeah, I kinda hated this film. I think expectations played a huge part definitely. It also didn’t help that it was just a couple months prior to the film’s release that I went down a huge Elton John rabbit role and became a pretty avid fan of his music and unique style of singing. Therefore, to hear some of his classic songs butchered by Little Elton John the movie immediately went down significantly in my estimation. I guess at the end of the day though I could try and poke holes in the “directorial decisions” or screenplay, this just wasn’t my kind of movie or at least I didn’t think it worked well with this story.

    Yes, the magical realism sequences such as “Crocodile Rock” at the Troubadour were great and reminiscent of some of my favorite scenes from Moulin Rouge. However, literally any time anyone other than Taron was singing (Elton John), it was difficult to listen through the scene. That was a decision that was made that I don’t think was inherently bad, but didn’t work at all for me. If they wanted to make a musical with Elton John’s songs then they should’ve made a musical and not a “biopic”. I loved Bohemian Rhapsody and perhaps I was expecting a movie more like that. One that delved into the songwriting process of many of the artists’s most iconic songs, which did actual justice in the performance of those songs, and wasn’t so caught up in being abstract that it took away from the story of the subject matter. However, I understand that Elton John was involved in the making of this movie and if that’s honestly the movie that he wanted made about him, more power to him.

    Taron Edgerton did a great job. Jamie Bell, great job. I look forward to see what other films they’ll be in.

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