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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Rocketman is a musical biopic about the life and work of Elton John (Taron Egerton). It has plenty of mature content, but the overall tone is sweet and life-affirming, and John is portrayed as someone who has the trappings of fame and success but only finds true happiness through deep, authentic connections with other people. His addictions and flaws are addressed frankly; the movie begins with him admitting he's an alcoholic, a drug addict, a sex addict, and a shopaholic, and viewers see him indulging openly during the movie. (Ultimately, we learn that he's nearly three decades sober.) John is also a proud gay man, and the film doesn't shy away from showing that part of his life. Expect many scenes of flirtation, romance, and affection between men, as well as a frank sex scene that begins with men kissing passionately before falling into bed to pull of their clothes; they're briefly shown nude and moving rhythmically together. Some of the film's language is also connected to John's sexuality; at various points in the film he's called -- or calls himself -- "f-g," "poofter," "fairy," and "queen" (other salty terms include "s--t," "f--k," and more). Violence is minimal, but at one point a man hits his boyfriend in the face, leaving bruises, and a character washes down pills with vodka before standing on a diving board and declaring that he's going to kill himself. Many scenes show John snorting lines of cocaine and drinking heavily; he appears sloppy and out of it, and the people in his life criticize his use. Characters smoke cigarettes, cigars, and a pipe.
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What's the story?
Based on the life of Elton John (Taron Egerton), ROCKETMAN explores how a shy teenage piano prodigy grew into one of rock's most iconic acts. Viewers meet John when he's still Reggie Dwight, an underloved kid who desperately wants attention from his dismissive father (Steven Mackintosh) and disinterested mom (Bryce Dallas Howard). A scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music changes his fate, as does a fortuitous meeting with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), with whom the newly rock-renamed Elton John writes his most beloved hits. The path to stardom and true love is a bumpy one to be sure, but this musical showcases both the music and the man who made it.
Is it any good?
Bursting with glitter, outsized emotions, and the sheer joy of music and a life well-lived, this glammy musical is the gorgeous biopic Elton John deserves. Delightfully trashing the staid rags-to-riches-to-decadence frame that most rock biographies favor, Rocketman takes more of a kaleidoscopic approach, gleefully mixing eras and placing musical numbers where they can best reveal something about John's life, rather than strictly sticking to when they were released. And, oh, what musical numbers! Though most rock biopics are built specifically to frame their subjects' musical output, that's also often where they go wrong, relegating deeply beloved hits to background noise or re-creating stage shows faithfully to blah effect. Rocketman gets it exquisitely right, transforming songs into eye-popping set pieces that practically vibrate with euphoria. For example, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" starts with adolescent John shyly sitting behind a pub piano and explodes into the streets of London with lager louts, black-leather toughs on bikes, and a suddenly aged-up John playing carnival barker to a cadre of dancers.
Best of all is the treatment given to "Crocodile Rock," the opening number for John's very first show in America. The jaded hipsters filling the SoCal club don't expect much from this weirdly dressed little guy they've never heard of -- but John's first thunderous piano chords get them stomping and screaming, until the "la la la" chorus lifts them all simultaneously into the air, John's legs floating skyward as he sings. It's a potent visual metaphor for anyone who's ever felt carried away by a favorite song and a transcendent moment in the movie. Thankfully, even in the non-musical scenes, the film still shines. Egerton has plenty of charisma and charm and puts across a story anyone can relate to: someone who never felt like he was enough gradually learning his worth. And, in stark contrast to many biographies of gay subjects, John's sexuality is neither denied nor glossed over, with scenes of frank and flirtatious sex and affection. Yet John's sex life isn't made the center of the action, either; that place is held by the platonic friends-for-life love story between John and longtime collaborator Taupin. A movie that faithfully re-creates the events of its subject's life, and also makes its audience feel the emotions? Now that's rock 'n' roll.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about biopics and who they're made by and for. Does it surprise you that Elton John himself was one of the executive producers on this project? Why do you think stars would want to make a movie about themselves? Are these movies made to appeal to existing fans or to everyone?
The movie is based on real people and events, but not everything happened exactly the way it's depicted here. Why do you think filmmakers might choose to alter the facts in films that are based on true stories? How could you find out more about Elton John?
Perhaps the most important relationship depicted in this movie is the friendship and collaboration between John and Taupin. How does their relationship show teamwork and compassion? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: May 31, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 27, 2019
- Cast: Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden
- Director: Dexter Fletcher
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Compassion, Teamwork
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
- Awards/Honors: Golden Globe
- Last updated: April 26, 2021
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