The well and truly objective among you out there wouldn't want to read a review of this documentary if it were written by an Elton John hater anymore than if it were written by a raving fan. Right, you've got me, then. I'll call myself a casual fan - a casual fan that has neither read a bunch of John biographies, nor seen a bunch of documentaries. I have his greatest hits on my mp3 player, Honky Chateau on vinyl, and recall that we had a Bennie and the Jets 45 when I was a wee lad. I loved it. Then again, I do not love this documentary.
So let's say reviews are based on some combination of supposition and expectation. We hope that a good reviewer bases his or her thoughts on what he or she supposes a good documentary should have, and what is expected to be delivered. Someone Like Me has some of what you'd expect; plenty of 'talking head' interviews, archival still shots and old footage, and a good overview of a musical career that spans over 40 years. However, I didn't expect it to seem so polite and cursory, and I didn't expect it to ultimately be so underwhelming.
The usual stops are made, Elton's (nee Reginald Dwight) childhood home, his early proclivity towards music, and his early career as an aggressive, intrepid blues-er on London's Carnaby Street in the mid-'60s. We learn of his tremendous chart dominance in the first half of the '70s, his serendipitous reinvention of an old favorite to become the fastest selling single of all-time in the wake of Princess Di's death, through to his becoming a grand-dame cultural icon in England and abroad. Despite being quite a lovely summary of John's life and career, and one that doesn't gloss over his sexuality and battles with varying addictions, it's all pretty wrong.
By which I mean while viewing I felt I was watching programming made especially for an airline, or a kiosk at some theme park. The sweet and proper voiced British narrator and Elton's old friends and associates are all so discrete, so full of British reserve, that certain facts (all of them) register no more forcefully that, say, learning what the GNP of Fiji is (not much). Sure, Elton drank constantly while managing to put out three chart-topping albums a year for periods in the early '70s. Did he do anything outrageous to appeal to our prurient interests? Did he hurt anyone? Beats me. Was there a depth to his upset when, from '75 to '82 and then from '83 to '97, he floundered artistically and commercially (save for The Lion King)? You won't find out, or be emotionally engaged in the slightest by this pamphlet of a biography.
Worst of all, and this is based both on supposition and expectation, there isn't one freaking drop of Elton John music to be heard anywhere on this disc. How can I get excited about John's masterful voice and compositions, or understand the importance of Bernie Taupin's words without hearing them? Why even bother? I suppose my expectations were too high, and that Elton's people were, too, when firstly, I couldn't geek out and get thrilled by the Rocket Man's audio power, and secondly John's managers wouldn't in any way endorse or allow his music to grace what is a very harmless biography.