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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."

Rocketman
Rocketman (film).png
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byDexter Fletcher
Produced by
Written byLee Hall
Starring
Music byMatthew Margeson
CinematographyGeorge Richmond
Edited byChris Dickens
Production
companies
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • 16 May 2019 (2019-05-16) (Cannes)
  • 22 May 2019 (2019-05-22) (United Kingdom)
  • 31 May 2019 (2019-05-31) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
Country
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$40 million[2]
Box office$187.8 million[2]

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.[3] The film was the first major Hollywood production to include a gay male sex scene.[4]

Contents

PlotEdit

Dressed in a flamboyant devil's outfit, Elton John enters an addiction rehabilitation session, and recounts his life in a flashback (The Bitch Is Back).

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.

CastEdit

ProductionEdit

DevelopmentEdit

Elton John and husband David Furnish tried to produce a film based on his life for almost two decades. The earliest efforts dated back to the 2000s, when development started at Walt Disney Pictures. Photographer David LaChapelle was set to direct the film after his work on the video for John's 2001 single, “This Train Don't Stop There Anymore", which featured Justin Timberlake as a young John.[5] However, the project languished for nearly two decades.[5] In an article written for The Guardian, John said that he struggled to get the film off the ground due to studios wanting it to be toned down to a PG-13 rating instead of an R.[6]

In January 2012, John announced that he had named Timberlake as his top choice to play him in the film. Lee Hall was set to pen the screenplay.[7] In March 2013, Michael Gracey was hired to direct, with Tom Hardy cast in October to play John and Focus Features acquiring the U.S. distribution rights. Filming was initially planned to start in autumn 2014.[8][9] However, creative differences between John and Focus, along with budget issues, led him and Furnish to take the project elsewhere.[10]

In July 2017, it was announced that Hardy was no longer involved, and Taron Egerton entered negotiations to replace him.[10] While editing Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Matthew Vaughn learned about the project and took interest in producing the film on the condition that Egerton played John.[10] Vaughn then picked Dexter Fletcher, who had replaced Bryan Singer during the production of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, to direct the film since Gracey was busy with The Greatest Showman.[10] The producers then filmed a sequence of Egerton as John performing two of John's songs, and presented it to Jim Gianopulos, who had worked with Vaughn on the Kingsman franchise at 20th Century Fox and was now the CEO of Paramount Pictures.[10] Paramount agreed to finance the film in exchange for worldwide distribution rights.[10] It was reported that Egerton would sing the songs in the film himself, produced by Giles Martin, who was brought on as music director for the project.[11] In an interview at CinemaCon, Egerton stated the film would be more of a fantasy-musical as opposed to a straightforward biopic.[12][13]

CastingEdit

In April 2018, Taron Egerton was officially cast to play the musician in the film. Egerton had previously appeared with John in the 2017 film Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and Egerton, as Johnny the Gorilla, sang John's song "I'm Still Standing" in the 2016 animated film Sing. In June, the role of Bernie Taupin was given to Jamie Bell.[14] In July, Richard Madden entered negotiations to play John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard was cast to play John's mother.[15][16] Gemma Jones was announced as being cast in the film in October.[17]

FilmingEdit

Production began on 2 August 2018.[18] In October 2018, it was announced the film was shooting in London.[19] Filming commenced at Bray Film Studios near Maidenhead, Berkshire.[20]

SoundtrackEdit

ReleaseEdit

Rocketman had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 16 May 2019,[21] and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 22 May 2019.[22] The film was initially scheduled to be released in the United States on 17 May 2019, but was pushed back to 31 May 2019.[23]

In Russia, where the film was released on 6 June 2019, about five minutes of footage were removed from the final cut. Central Partnership, the company in charge of distribution in the country, removed all scenes involving homosexuality and drugs, a move that was criticized by both John and Paramount.[24]

The film was banned from being shown in Samoa, a conservative Christian nation. Principal Censor Leiataua Niuapu, of Samoa's Censorship Board, explained: "It's a good story, in that it's about an individual trying to move on in life. He [Elton John] went through a difficult family life and managed to move on and become very successful. But there are acts that are not good for public viewing and against the law."[25]

Home mediaEdit

Rocketman was released on Digital HD on August 6, 2019 and on DVD, Bluray, and 4K Ultra HD on August 27, 2019. [26]

ReceptionEdit

Box officeEdit

As of 20 August 2019, Rocketman has grossed $96.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $91.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $187.8 million, against a production budget of $40 million.[2][27]

In the United States and Canada, Rocketman was released alongside Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Ma, and was projected to gross $20–25 million from 3,610 theaters in its opening weekend.[28][29] The film made $9.2 million on its first day, including $1.8 million from Thursday night previews and $580,000 from 18 May paid advanced Fandango screenings, for a preview total of $2.3 million. It went on to debut to $25.7 million, finishing third, behind Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Aladdin.[30] The film dropped 46% in its second weekend to $14 million, finishing in fifth,[31] and then made $9.4 million in its third weekend, climbing to the fourth position.[32]

In the United Kingdom, it debuted to $6.4 million, finishing second, behind fellow new release Aladdin.[33] The following week, the film was projected to gross around $20 million from the international markets it was released in alongside the U.S.,[29] and ended up making $19.2 million from 39 non-U.S. countries over the weekend.[34]

Critical responseEdit

At its Cannes Film Festival release, it received a standing ovation.[35] It also received a standing ovation from Oscar voters at the Academy screening.[36]

On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, Rocketman holds an approval rating of 89% based on 343 reviews, with an average rating of 7.61/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It's going to be a long, long time before a rock biopic manages to capture the highs and lows of an artist's life like Rocketman."[37] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[38] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 4 out of 5 stars and a 69% "definite recommend."[30]

Steve Pond of TheWrap said, "It's all grand and fun and corny; a musical fantasy that reaches for the sky and gets there often enough to make it diverting."[39] The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film three stars out of five, saying Egerton performed a "good impression of the flamboyant musician," and writing, "Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton John's music and his public image."[40] In the same newspaper, Mark Kermode gave the film five stars, writing that "Fletcher is the real star of this show, a director whose enthusiasm for musical storytelling shines through every frame."[41] Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper also greatly enjoyed the film, giving it three-and-a-half stars out of four, and praising its "almost documentary-level eye for detail when it comes to re-creating historic chapters such as the sold-out shows at Dodger Stadium in 1975 when Elton wore a sequined Dodgers uniform and belted out one hit after another to the adoring masses."[42]

Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com had mixed feelings about Rocketman, awarding it two-and-a-half stars out of four and stating that the film is a "formulaic, paint-by-numbers biopic."[43]

AccoladesEdit

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
Cannes Film Festival 14–25 May 2019 Queer Palm Dexter Fletcher Nominated [44]

Historical accuracyEdit

Some historical events depicted in the film are incorrect or portrayed out of order, while some real-life persons' portrayals are disputed.

EventsEdit

  • "Border Song" wasn't the first song that Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote together, as they met in 1967 and the song wasn’t written until 1969.[45][46] Their first song was "Scarecrow".[47]
  • Elton John didn’t audition for Dick James by playing "Daniel" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", given that the songs weren't written until 1972 and 1983, respectively.[45]
  • Dick James was the one who encouraged then-Reggie Dwight to choose a stage name.[48] On May 7, 1972, he legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John.[49]
  • While it's true that Elton John adopted his first name from a bandmate of Bluesology, saxophonist Elton Dean, he didn't think about changing his last name while glancing at a photo of John Lennon. Elton was inspired by his early mentor, Long John Baldry, who hired Bluesology as his backup band in 1966. Elton John admired Baldry as one of the few people in the music scene who were both openly gay and highly esteemed.[50][51]
  • Elton John and Bernie Taupin didn't immediately start writing music meant for Elton to record. They spent two years working as staff songwriters for Dick James, beginning in 1968, creating tracks for artists like Roger Cook and Lulu, until the first album full of the pair's music, 1969's Empty Sky.[52]
  • Regarding the affirmation that John and Bernie never had an argument, liner notes for the 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy features a January 12, 1969 diary entry written by John that reads, "Had row with Bernie."[50] In a 2011 interview, Elton couldn't remember what they had a row about.[46]
  • Elton John never dated a landlady named Arabella. He dated a secretary named Linda Hannon (née Woodrow) for two years, and was engaged to her in 1969. John ended up sinking into a suicidal depression due to stress faced with the prospect of living a domestic life in the suburbs, and attempted to kill himself in his kitchen from inert gas asphyxiation (failing to do so by leaving the kitchen windows open, and being found by Bernie). Less than a month before the wedding, John suddenly broke off their engagement, advised by Long John Baldry. Bernie and Elton ended up writing the song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" based on the failed marriage and Baldry's advice.[53][50] Linda revealed disappointment for not being mentioned in the film.[54]
  • Neil Young didn't perform at the Troubadour two weeks before John; his last show in the venue was well over a year prior to Elton’s. He hasn't done a concert there since.[45]
  • The show at the Troubadour didn't happen on a Monday, but a Tuesday, on August 25, 1970.[45]
  • Elton John didn't play "Crocodile Rock" at the Troubadour in 1970, as the song was written in 1972.[45]
  • There are no records of The Beach Boys being present on Elton John's first show at the Troubadour.[51]
  • Elton John didn't meet his backing band on the night of the show. He had been touring with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson all over England since April 1970, four months before they went to Los Angeles.[45]
  • There wasn't a guitar player at the Troubadour concert, only Murray and Olsson. Elton John wouldn't have a guitarist until Davey Johnstone in 1972.[45]
  • Elton John met John Reid at a Motown Records Christmas party in London in December 1970, not at Mama Cass's house in Los Angeles months earlier.[55][56]
  • Elton John's concert at the Dodger Stadium happened in 1975, one year before the recording of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".[45]
  • Elton John met Renate Blauel while she was working as a sound engineer on one of his albums, but it was not 1979's Victim of Love. They first saw each other during the recordings of 1983's Too Low for Zero. He proposed to her on February 10, 1984 in Australia, and they married in Sydney on Valentine's Day of the same year.[57] They officially announced their divorce on November 18, 1988.[58]
  • Although Elton John did cancel a concert at the Madison Square Garden in New York in 1984, claiming he had a viral flu,[59] he only checked into rehab in 1990, at the Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago, after a young friend, Ryan White, had died from AIDS a few months earlier and after a visit to his boyfriend of the time, Hugh Williams, in a rehab facility in Prescott, Arizona.[60][61]
  • "I'm Still Standing" was not written while Elton John was in rehab, nor the music video was filmed after he left. The song was recorded in 1982, and the song and the video were released a year later.[62][63][51]

PeopleEdit

  • Elton John's half-brother Geoff Dwight disputed the characterization of John’s father, Stanley Dwight, stating, "My dad was kind and gentle. He spoke his mind but encouraged us all, including Elton, to do what we were good at. As a boy when he started supporting Watford it was my father who took him to the matches."[64] In a previous 2010 interview, Geoff recalled, “When I was growing up, Elton was always there and we had a lot of fun on family holidays and things like that".[50] John’s stepmother, Edna, told biographer Philip Norman for 2001's Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography that "Stanley's been made out as an overbearing monster. But it’s just not true. He was a lovely man, a good father and a loving husband." She added that, far from discouraging his son's musical talent, Stanley bought him a piano in 1963, showing Norman the receipt.[50] His father also wrote a letter to congratulate Elton on winning his scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.[65]
  • According to Elton John, his mother, Sheila Eileen Dwight, never reproached him or made it clear any disappointed feelings, always showing support in his personal and professional lives.[65]
  • The depiction of Dick James was disputed by musician Caleb Quaye, who was a member of Elton's former band Bluesology. Quaye described James as "a gentleman,” and criticised him being shown in the film as a boorish, foul-mouthed cockney. “He wasn’t cockney. He was an old-school music man but was smartly dressed, you never heard a cuss word out of him. He was like a father, he gave us an opportunity to learn our craft. I don’t understand the fantasy of depicting him like that because he was nothing like it."[66] Dick’s son, Stephen James (who helped discover Elton and encouraged Dick to sign him up to his music label DJM Records), also criticised the film’s portrayal of his father, calling John "basically a coward" and claiming that he wanted to destroy "everybody who was helpful or good" during the early days of his career, adding, "I don't understand why he seems to feel the need to try to destroy everybody who helped him. We only ever tried to do the best for him and to promote his career. I really am very upset that he has turned on people in this way. They basically depict my father in the film completely opposite to the way he was in real life."[67]

ReferencesEdit

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  63. ^ ""I'm Still Standing": Elton John's classic video featured leather boys, mimes & kissing clowns".
  64. ^ "I'm so proud of Elton...but I can't forgive him for missing our father's funeral; BROTHER BREAKS HIS SILENCE TO REVEAL THE TRUTH ABOUT FAMILY SPLIT. - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com.
  65. ^ a b "Elton John's sex and drugs past distorted in Rocketman, says family". The Sun. 23 May 2019.
  66. ^ Watts, Halina (18 May 2019). "Elton John biopic Rocketman blasted for 'serious inaccuracies' in storyline". mirror.
  67. ^ Pilditch, David (27 May 2019). "Elton John: Record mogul's son slams 'character assassination' in new biopic". Express.co.uk.

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