89% liked this movie
Rocketman is a 2019 biographical musical film based on the life of musician Elton John. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall, it stars Taron Egerton as John, with Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila Eileen. The film follows John in his early days as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music through his musical partnership with Taupin. The film is titled after John’s 1972 song “Rocket Man.”
The film had been in development since the 2000s before it was initially announced in 2013 where Focus Features acquired the rights to the film and director Michael Gracey and actor Tom Hardy were set to direct and star in the project respectively. After Hardy and Gracey left the project following creative differences between Focus and John that halted an initial production start in fall 2014, the project languished for several years until Paramount Pictures took over as distributor in April 2018, where Egerton and Fletcher signed on. Principal photography began in August 2018 and was completed later that year. John served as executive producer, while husband David Furnish produced the film through their Rocket Pictures, alongside Matthew Vaughn‘s Marv Films.
Rocketman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 16 May 2019, and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 22 May 2019 and in the United States on 31 May 2019. The film has grossed $187 million worldwide against its $40 million budget and received positive reviews from critics, with Egerton’s performance, the costume design and musical numbers receiving general praise. The film was the first major Hollywood production to include a gay male sex scene.
Young Elton (born Reginald Dwight) grows up in 1950s Britain, raised by his cold, unaffectionate mother, Sheila, and more loving grandmother Ivy. His father, Stanley, serves in the Royal Air Force and is mostly absent from home and his son’s life. Reginald is interested in music and piano and discovers his ability to “play by ear”—instantly replaying a piece perfectly after listening to it once. He hopes to perform for his father upon his return, but Stanley takes no interest in his son nor his talent (I Want Love).
Reginald begins formal training with Ivy’s support and eventually makes his way into the Royal Academy of Music. Stanley abandons his family after Sheila has an affair with another man (which Reginald witnesses much to his disgust). Reginald develops interest in rock music and artists such as Elvis Presley, and begins performing in local pubs (Saturday Night’s Alright). Now an adult, Reginald joins the band Bluesology. One night Bluesology is hired to play backup for a touring American soul band. One of its singers recommends that Reginald write some songs, change his name, put his old life behind him and start anew if he wants to become a famous, professional artist. This inspires Reginald to change his name to Elton John.
Elton begins writing music and tries to find success with Dick James‘ record label DJM Records under the management of Ray Williams. Williams introduces Elton to songwriter Bernie Taupin and they quickly form a friendship (Border Song). Elton’s former partners in the soul band out him as homosexual, but Bernie is disinterested in his partner’s sexuality and they move into a flat together to work on their songs. This tenancy ends abruptly when Elton ends his romantic relationship with Arabella, their landlady.
Elton and Bernie return to Elton’s family home to continue writing, and create “Your Song.” James is impressed by the song and sets up a performance for them at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Elton is nervous before his Troubadour debut, but the audience eagerly embraces his performance (Crocodile Rock). Elton is overjoyed by his success, but his lifelong feelings of loneliness and abandonment return at an after-party at Mama Cass‘s home in the Hollywood Hills when Bernie leaves him to spend time with a woman (Tiny Dancer). He is approached by John Reid, a music manager attracted to Elton. They sleep together and reunite later (Take Me to the Pilot).
John’s influence over Elton launches a downward spiral into a life of debauchery even as his career rises to new heights (Hercules/Don’t Go Breaking My Heart). Elton develops a flamboyant, over-the-top stage persona that makes him into one of the most successful artists of the 1970s (Honky Cat). John’s manipulation and control increases into outright abuse after Elton appoints him his new manager. John insists he come out as gay to his parents so they can help hide their sexual relationship from the press, so Elton reconnects with Stanley, who is now remarried with two other sons. Stanley still displays no interest in Elton but is demonstrative and affectionate with his new family. Unhappy and hurt, Elton storms away from John, calls his mother on a payphone, and tells her he is gay. Sheila bluntly informs him that she already knew, does not care, and ends the call by telling Elton he will be forever alone. Still more upset by his mother’s reply, Elton turns to John for comfort. John hits him and orders him to focus on his sold-out concert tour. Struggling with parental issues as well as John’s increasing physical and emotional abuse, Elton becomes addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, shopping, and sex.
Elton consumes large amounts of drugs and alcohol to escape his pain and loneliness, but his mood swings and short temper alienate the friends who do care for him (Pinball Wizard). He catches John cheating on him with another man and breaks off their relationship. John taunts him and says all he wants is for Elton to keep making money for him. Later that day, during a house party, Elton binges on drugs and alcohol and attempts suicide by jumping into his pool. He is rushed to the hospital, then thrust onstage at Dodger Stadium to perform (Rocket Man).
Elton descends further into a life of drugs, alcohol, and loneliness (Bennie and the Jets). He has a short-lived marriage with a close female friend, Renate, but his homosexuality dooms this relationship. (Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me). He falls out with his mother (who hypocritically and arrogantly blames him for his father leaving her, and claims she “gave up so much” for him) (Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word) and Bernie. Infuriated, agitated, and depressed, Elton’s dependence on prescription pills and alcohol result in a heart attack. He is again rushed to the hospital, but John shrugs it off as a mild chest infection and forces Elton back onstage for his next performance. Realizing that his life is spiraling out of control, Elton leaves Madison Square Garden before the concert and seeks help (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road). He enters rehabilitation and realizes he no longer needs support and approval from his parents or John. Elton rekindles his friendship with Bernie, who brings him new song lyrics to try and help him back in action. At first, Elton is worried that he cannot perform or compose without alcohol or drugs as a crutch but Bernie has confidence in him. Elton writes “I’m Still Standing” and returns to a successful career.
The film’s ending subtitles inform viewers that Elton has been sober for over 28 years, but he “still has a problem with shopping”. He remains good friends with Bernie, and is now married to David Furnish, with whom he has two children.