When Hollywood turns to make a rock and roll biopic, part of the fun is seeing actors take a turn at playing real people. Bohemian Rhapsody, for instance, was obsessed with getting the looks of all the band members on point, almost to an uncanny valley level. But the new Elton John film bills itself as a "fantasy biopic," which has viewers puzzled. How accurate is Rocketman? It's complicated.
Unlike 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman isn't trying to recreate slices of Elton John's experience down to the placement of the stage lights. Instead, the choice was to go with an old school movie-musical type format. In the closing credits, screenshots from the film are contrasted against photographs and screenshots from John's actual performances, and the differences are startling, especially in the costuming. Unlike Freddie Mercury's wardrobe, John's outfits (and glasses) seemed to have been jumping off points to create something both homage-like and yet also new.
That being said, many of the film's plot points are pretty accurate, and a few of the scenes are exact recreations. For instance, young Reginald Dwight (Elton John's original name) was a bit of a child prodigy. The scenes where Dwight sits down at the piano and reproduces songs by ear from hearing them once are backed up by his family, as was earning the scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. That being said, the film's insistence that John and his father had a strained relationship is a fact John has long maintained but is disputed by his half-brothers.
John's first meeting with Bernie Taupin also matches interviews where both discuss how their initial friendship began. But this credit, that Taupin is the one who has written nearly everything John recorded does undermine one of the film's dramatic conceits, that these songs, are expressions of John's state of mind throughout various points in his life. Let's call that dramatic license.
Meanwhile, the timeline is definitely fudged. For instance, Elton John didn't meet John Reid in America, but the year before in London. He didn't meet Renate Blauel until 1983, after "I'm Still Standing" came out. Speaking of which, the timeline for his rehab stint is also wrong. Elton John went to rehab and got sober in 1990. (Hence the "Sober for 28 years" in the credits.) By then, "I'm Still Standing" had been out for nearly a decade.
That being said, there are places where the film goes balls to the wall in getting things entirely accurate. The outfit, for instance, that John wears to his first major American gig, was one of his earliest go-to costumes. The performance at Dodgers stadium recreates the Elton John blinged out baseball uniform perfectly. (And yes, it did happen only a few days after his overdose.)
And the final moments of the film, where Taron Egerton performs the 1983 song "I'm Still Standing" contains moments so indistinguishable from the original MTV video, I wasn't sure if it was footage with Elton John or Egerton. Though it may not have been the most factually accurate ending, it was the most emotionally true one, and in a fantasy biopic, that's what really matters.