A Review of the Movies
Yesterday, we went to see two movies in one day. We started with Rocketman and then saw Booksmart. They were not planned as movies that would relate to each other — this was not a theme movie day — but we ended up making several connections between the movies.
Rocketman is a musical biopic about Elton John. It traces his life as a child, a teenager, and a young man, and depicts how these experiences shaped him as an artist. I am not familiar enough with Elton John’s personal history to speak to how accurate the biopic is, but I can say that it was an incredibly enjoyable movie.
The movie explores the challenges that Elton John had as a child. His father was strict and distant and refused to show him any affection (as depicted in the movie). His mother was a bit self-absorbed and was more concerned with her lovers than her son. The only person who really focused on Elton John as a child was his grandmother.
Early on they reveal that he is musically talented. His parents are not very supportive of him pursuing his talents, but his grandmother takes him to audition for the music academy. This allows him to develop his skills and talents for his future work as a musician.
We follow Elton John through his early music career, and they show his first sexual experiences. Many reviewers have commented on the “gay sex” depicted in the movie. I think that they are being a bit “Polyanna-ish” in these comments. There is nothing particularly unusual about the sexual activity depicted in the movie, and I feel that there was far less sexual content than depicted in other movies that I have seen recently. I am also bothered by the need to refer to it as “gay sex”. Can we just say there is sexual activity and be done with it?
We also examine Elton John’s experiences with drugs and alcohol and using drugs and alcohol to cope with his loneliness and keep moving forward. They also explore the process he goes through to overcome these challenges. In this process, we see Elton John examine his self-doubt as he considers whether he will be able to produce the same level of art and performance without the drugs and alcohol in his life. Spoiler alert: he can.
The movie also explores Elton John’s sense of fantasy and style in his performances. The movie examines some of the inspiration for his unique flair and sense of style. A shy boy becomes a bold performer, and watching this transformation gives the viewer some hope for overcoming their own perceived insufficiencies.
Overall, I thought this was an excellent movie. I really enjoyed it, and it made me think about Elton John’s talent and artistry in a new way. I wish they had spent some time portraying Elton John’s post-addiction artistry. I want to learn more about how he moved forward and has successfully stayed sober and drug free for so many years. At the very least, the movie has inspired me to go in search of a biography or autobiography on Elton John to learn more.
After a quick nap between movies, we returned to the movie theatre to see Booksmart. This was a fun coming-of-age tale that focuses on two nerdy, book smart seniors in high school on the eve of their graduation. I was not expecting this movie to connect to what I had just watched in Rocketman, but it did. More on that later.
Booksmart starts with two young women in their last day of high school. They have devoted their academic careers to studying and focusing on school activities that will get them into their colleges of choice. We learn early on that the students who partied also got into good schools. The two protagonists start questioning why they focused so much on their schooling and did not spend time enjoying their teenage years and having fun.
The two leading ladies decide to go to the parties that their classmates are throwing that evening. Graduation will be the next morning. What ensues is a series of entertaining events and side-stitching laughter. All ages will find something to laugh at in this movie.
The movie also really captured the teenage transformation experience that you go through as you are leaving high school and embarking on life as an adult. We see Amy explore her sexuality and approach her crush. There is heartbreak and disappointment, but there is also love discovered.
The depictions of the different groups in the school is relatable. The portrayal of the arts group and the theatre and debate kids is spot-on. There is a limited focus on the jocks — a welcome relief from them dominating most coming-of-age films. And we focus on the realities of the teenage experience for two individuals who would normally be ignored in cinema.
Ultimately, we see that friendship wins over all other things with its unique kind of love. It gets a bit cliché at times, but this is forgiven in the honesty and humor that the writers were able to embrace. In just 24 hours we see the two leading ladies transform from timid, bookish types who have not really lived and really coming into their own.
Connections Between the Movies
I was not expecting to find connections between the two movies, but ultimately there were several connections. Both movies depicted protagonists coming of age in unique circumstances. In one case, an artist who discovers his inner beauty and talent while in the other, two young adults who begin to push some boundaries and discover who they are.
There are also common themes that relate to LGBTQ-pride. This was expected in the Elton John biopic, but was a welcome surprise in Booksmart. Admittedly, I did not know much about Booksmart before I watched it other than the previews looked funny. There is a brutally honest depiction of a young woman exploring her sexual identity with all of the challenges and frustrations that come with it.
Both movies highlighted the importance of the human spirit. We see an inner beauty of the main characters in both movies, and we fall in love with them. It is nice to watch the protagonists engage in a process of self-discovery. Although that process is only a 24-hour process in Booksmart, it still reveals some important truths. We learn the importance of being true to your core identity in both movies.
Overall, both movies were great. I enjoyed both, and I would highly recommend viewing them. If you have the luxury of a day of movie-going, I highly recommend seeing them together. They work together in unexpected ways that reward the viewer.