Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
There’s a moment in Rocketman that lands such a devastating blow that the film immediately soared to the top of the list of my favorite biopics.
When Elton finally comes out to his mother, she surprisingly receives the news in a rather calm, indifferent manner, proclaiming that she had already known for years. However, she ends this conversation with the declaration that Elton is “choosing a life of being alone forever,” and therefore will “never be loved properly.”
I’m not ever going to be a rockstar. Hell, I can’t hold a tune to save my life (despite my considerable time in high school choir, my star did not shine bright). And I’ll never live the life of fame and excess that Elton John has experienced in his many years in the spotlight either. But in that one moment, thanks to beautifully razor-sharp writing and Taron’s effortless acting, the facade of Elton’s larger than life persona faded away, and all I saw was a lost, lonely queer kid. And in that moment, I saw myself.
I’ve been asked many times whether I “liked” my identity and if I would “change it if I could,” and that’s quite the loaded question. I love who I am. I feel that my queernees has played a significant part in making me the person I am today. But I’m also not living 100% as myself if I’m not being 100% honest, and I can honestly say that it’s a far harder life than any of the “It gets better!” ads led me to believe growing up. I think everyone has their fair share of heartbreak and hopelessness, but living as a queer Midwesterner hasn’t always been the easiest existence. It’s hard enough to find LGBTQ+ friends, let alone romantic partners. The judgment and alienation I often feel in the community can be stifling and downright humiliating. And despite all of the progress we’ve made over the years, hate and bigotry are just as prevalent as they’ve ever been - and that fear of retaliation is continually at the back of my mind, no matter where I am. I always try to remind myself that I do love who I am wholeheartedly, and I know I was born this way for a reason, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking that somehow my queer identity has indeed made my life harder.
I don’t wish to turn this into a “woe is me” lament or burden you with my inner mental strife, but it’s considerable food for thought that arose as I was watching this film. That line - and Bryce Dallas Howard’s impeccable delivery - cut right to my core, and it drew me into this story moreso than hundreds of other biopics that have come before.
As I watched Elton’s downward spiral, full of salacious sexual pursuits, seductive drugs, and suicidal ideation, I thought of all the inappropriate ways I’ve attempted to confront my own feelings of loneliness and a lack of love. While our unhealthy coping mechanisms aren’t 100% comparable, I did notice more than a few similarities between the emotions behind these dangerous activities, and it broke my heart to realize the full extent of one of my idol’s true pain. Yet, at the same time, I’d never felt closer to Elton, realizing that this costumed Casanova was as broken as I was.
As Elton eventually overcomes these feelings and his troublesome tendencies, ending the film on a spirited rendition of “I’m Still Standing,” I felt my heart soar like never before. I’ve been through plentiful rough patches myself, the worst of which have even occurred in the past year and a half, but after all of that mess, I too saw that I could turn things around by embracing myself wholeheartedly and giving myself the love I deserve before expecting it from anyone else. I too could “still stand” and triumph. This isn’t to say the pain or sorrow will ever fully disappear - some scars never truly heal, and some sadness sticks with us for quite some time - but I can still have hope that a better and brighter future awaits. I’m still trying to fully buy into that mindset, but by the end of this movie, I felt more encouraged to take this leap than I’d ever been in the past.
We can knock Rocketman for its cliches until we’re blue in the face, but no matter how many “rise and fall” rock and roll tropes it buys into, it’ll always stand apart from the pack for the way it brazenly dissects both Elton John’s popular and private personas and authentically provides us with the illustration of broken human that we can all relate to, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. I know this endless talk of “diversity” and “representation” can really grate on some people and turn them off, but please know that it’s moments like these that truly make a difference. Seeing an LGBTQ+ cultural icon portrayed with not only all of his sexual tastes intact but also his queer-specific emotional turmoil was a truly revelatory experience, and it’s something I won’t ever forget.
For some, Rocketman will just be another uproarious underdog tale, but for me, it was a breath of life in terms of the stories I wish to see on screen and the stories I so desperately seek to hear for support in this isolated world. It’s not always that I meet another member of the LGBTQ+ community where I live, let alone one with the similar struggles as me, but the magic of movies allows us to discover personalities that impact our lives sometimes far more than those who punctuate our daily existence. And for that, I’m forever thankful.