Elton John biopic Rocketman isn’t just a blast for music-lovers everywhere — it’s also a groundbreaking and important film for the LGBTQ community.
Let’s be honest. Elton John is pretty difficult to dislike. Even if you’re not a fan of his music, most people pretty much agree that he is a genuinely great person, whether because of his over-the-top personality and confidence, his humanitarian work, or a combination thereof.
Rocketman, a musical-style biopic about John’s life, is very similar to Bohemian Rhapsody (the film biography of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, released back in November), in that neither of them were very hard sells to begin with. Like Queen, John is one of those artists whose back catalogs most people are willing to sit through even if they aren’t that obsessed with his music. Everyone has at least one Elton John song they love, even if they don’t know its by him.
That being said, Rocketman is not only a solid film from a narrative perspective, it is also one of the most important LGBTQ films you will watch this year.
When I went in, I honestly did not know too much about the history of John’s life. I knew enough to know that he is gay, he is British, and he has made some of the best songs we’re all still singing under our breath for the last forty years. He is also who Lady Gaga should be thanking for being one of the groundbreakers for her style, and I’m positive she would strongly agree with that.
The film’s narrative is spun as a flat-out rock musical, with John’s songs used to further the narrative in various appropriate places. As soon as six year old John (then going by his birth name of Reginald Dwight) started singing “I Want Love,” I should have known this wasn’t going to be the campy ride that I initially thought it would be.
And I am glad for that.
Much like many (okay fine, most) of his peers in the 1970s and 1980s, John experimented with and became addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping (an addiction which, in the factual montage at the end, he cheekily admits he still suffers from), and bulimia, among other things.
Throughout the film, John deals with these many issues, even as his star skyrockets to the top after meeting lyricist and future best friend/right-hand man, Bernie Taupin. After rehab he admits to Taupin that he fears he won’t be nearly as good as he was under the influence. Taupin then smiles and reminds John that the drugs and alcohol never had anything to do with his talent.
We also, amidst other things, see John’s various heartbreaks; from his parents after coming out as gay, to the abuse he endured through his manager John Reid, to his suicide attempt. Rocketman is important for so many smaller reasons, including the fact that it is the first major Hollywood film to feature a gay sex scene. But it’s most important due to the fact that it is such a overwhelmingly supportive and powerful queer narrative.
I want to see thousands more of them.
Every day, we wake up to even more dark realities on our screens, from basic rights being threatened or ripped away outright to members of our own community, especially black trans women, being murdered just for having the audacity to exist.
Films like this and Bohemian Rhapsody are important in this climate, and not just because of representation. They are important because they go down into the darkness, they show these people at the bottom of the barrel and they show that, despite it all, they still came back up and conquered the world. We need these narratives more than ever because they remind us that we too can crawl back up, our nails clinging deep in the dirt as we climb up and keep going.
I want this LGBTQ biopic train that we have to keep going. I want to see so many more. I want to see the biopic on Marsha P. Johnson. I want to see a biopic on Carrie Brownstein. I want Wanda Sykes to tell me her life story. Tell me about Danica Roem and her life. Someone please get to work on making Mr. George Takei the best film ever made.
I want all of them. Because when we see these people we already look up to — and how, despite being thrown into the bowels of hell, they came out kicking and screaming and laughing in the face of adversity — it gives us strength to fight our own battles. At the end of the day, isn’t that in and of itself the queer experience? As John sang, “Don’t you know I’m still standing better than I ever did? Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid. I’m still standing after all this time.”
Stand tall and sing with him. See Rocketman.