Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
Release date: 31 May 2019
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Budget: $41 million
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, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard. The film follows John’s early days as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music to his musical partnership with Bernie Taupin. The film is titled after John’s 1972 song “Rocket Man”.
An Elton John biopic had been in development for almost two decades, with the project going through studios including Walt Disney Studios and Focus Features, directors including Michael Gracey, and actors including Tom Hardy and Justin Timberlake. After creative differences with Focus halted an initial production start in 2014, John took the project to Paramount Pictures, with Egerton and Fletcher signing on in April 2018. Principal photography began in August 2018 and was completed later that year.
Rocketman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 16 May 2019, and was released in the United Kingdom on 22 May 2019. It is scheduled to be released in the United States on 31 May 2019. The film received positive reviews from critics, with Egerton’s performance receiving a generally favorable reception. It is the first major Hollywood production to show a gay male sex scene on-screen.
The film tells the story of Elton John’s life, from his years as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music, through his influential and enduring musical partnership with Bernie Taupin, as well as his struggles with depression, substance abuse, and acceptance of his sexual orientation.
The events of the film are told in flashback with the frame narrative of Elton in an alcoholics anonymous meeting. The flashbacks also contain musical numbers of John’s songs, as imagined in his head during pivotal moments in his life.
Elton John and husband David Furnish had tried to produce a film based on his life for almost two decades. The earliest dated back to 2001, when the film initially started at Walt Disney Studios, with photographer David LaChapelle set to direct the film after his work on the video for John’s 2001 single, “This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” which featured Justin Timberlake as a young John. However, no further development took place from Disney since then.
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. 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. However, creative differences between John and Focus along with budget issues caused him and Furnish take the project elsewhere.
No further development on the film was announced until July 2017, when it was announced Hardy was no longer involved with the project, and Taron Egerton entered negotiations to replace him. 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. Vaughn then picked Dexter Fletcher, who had replaced Bryan Singer during the production of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, to direct the film after Gracey was busy with The Greatest Showman. 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. Paramount agreed to finance the film in exchange for worldwide distribution rights. It was reported that Egerton would sing the songs in the film himself produced by Giles Martin who was by then brought on as music director for the project. In an interview at CinemaCon, Egerton stated the film would be more of a fantasy-musical as opposed to a straightforward biopic.
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 animated film Sing. In June, the role of Bernie Taupin was given to Jamie Bell. In July, Richard Madden entered negotiations to play John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard was cast to play John’s mother. Gemma Jones was announced as being cast in the film in October.
Production commenced on 2 August 2018. Also in October 2018, it was announced the film was shooting in London. Filming commenced at Bray Film Studios near Maidenhead, Berkshire.
An official soundtrack album Rocketman (Music From The Motion Picture) is scheduled to be released by Virgin EMI (UK) and Interscope Records (US) on CD and digital formats on 24 May 2019. The album contains 22-tracks of several hits performed by the cast of the film and a newly written track “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again“ featuring Egerton and John.
Rocketman made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 16 May 2019 and was released in the United Kingdom on 22 May 2019. The film was initially scheduled to be released in the United States on 17 May 2019, but was pushed back to 31 May 2019.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 68 reviews, with an average rating of 7.54/10. The website’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.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.
Steve Pond of the 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 but also frustrating.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gave the film three stars out of five, saying Egerton did a “good impression of the flamboyant musician” and writing: “Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton John’s music and his public image. But the man itself eluded it.”
Rocketman: Movie Trailer
Rocketman: Movie Review
“You have to kill the person you are born with to become the one you want to.”
Hmm, but is it so easy to make the switch, to let go of the ghosts of past and insecurities that plague one in early life? Rocketman isn’t merely about an unloved child Regi (Reginald Kenneth Dwight) and his transformation to John Elton the legendary rock star. Success, we all know, exacts a heavy price. And when it comes knocking at at a rather young age of 25, dealing with millions of currency notes as well as fans can only be problematic. Why it may even turn fatal… the tipping point in the lives of artistes, especially as hugely famous as Elton, is only lurking close by.
But of course, this biopic, though looking at the flip side of fame and money, is no sad story but brimming with energy and excitement. A musical drama, indeed, a film on Sir Elton John can only be so. Music sets the tone and tenor. Music is not an intrusion / intervention but a thread that connects it all. There is much to weave in. His prodigious talent, his troubled childhood, discovery of the English singer in the US and his early success. By 25, Elton was a millionaire. The faithful, who have been following his career graph, will find much here. His gravity defying antics, his legs fly while hands move on piano, his flashy attire, his in-your-face flamboyance and many leaves from his personal life.
Early on, the song, “I want love….” is a foreboding of what will follow. A gay, his mother tells him, will never ever find it. Is it the quest for love that a homosexual yearns for and can’t find it in the world of scheming managers such as John Reid (Richard Madden of GoT fame deliciously conniving)? Or, the downside of stupendous fame that plunges him deep into a morass of drugs and hedonistic lifestyle, who can tell?
Suffice it is to say, you leave the theater with a smile and a happy humming heart, on a song literally. For, unlike other artistes who succumbed to the perils of a charmed life, we are reminded Elton has been sober for 28 years and is leading a happy married life.
“I am still standing,” goes the song almost like a life mantra. So does the film firmly on its two feet, often soars too and takes us right into the centre; making of Elton as well as his unmaking before he discovers his true self.
Though a real story of the singer, who has given us the song Rocket Man among many others, there is a fantastical touch to the treatment. Not merely for the narrative breaks into a song every now and then, which anyway makes you hum and tap along. Directorial flourishes by Fletcher rope in the flight of surrealism, making it light and entertaining, even when Elton’s life touches a low. Taron Egerton makes Elton endearing, vulnerable and a survivor in equal measure. If he lends wings literally as well as metamorphically to his flamboyance, his emotionally choked confession to his mother about his sexual orientation is a cinematic moment to cherish. Many a tender moment, especially the hug the child (Matthew Illesley is oh so adorable) in him shares with the mature Elton define the film, which is inspirational not merely in unraveling of a success story. Triumph of human spirit, it offers a musical high as well as a touchdown to the world Elton inhabits.