Rocketman Parent Guide
A musical fantasia about Elton John's life that overdoses on drugs and sex.
Parent Movie Review
Elton John was under pressure to make sure the musical biopic of his life, Rocketman, was clean enough to receive a PG-13 rating. “But,” said Sir Elton, “I just haven’t led a PG-13 life. I didn’t want a film packed with drugs and sex, but equally, everyone knows I had quite a bit of both during the ‘70s and ‘80s.” While Rocketman might not be “packed” with sex and drugs, it is certainly full of both – and a not inconsiderable amount of profanity.
And this is unfortunate. Rocketman tells an absorbing, albeit sadly familiar, story and I wish director Dexter Fletcher had toned down the content issues enough to achieve a PG-13 rating. Instead, Rocketman features excessive sexual content, including an orgy at a nightclub and a manipulative, transactional sexual relationship between Elton John and his manager, John Reid (Richard Madden). It also depicts near-constant drug and alcohol use, including one scene where a despairing and very drunk Elton John (Taron Egerton) swallows fistfuls of prescription drugs, chases them down with more alcohol, and tries to kill himself by falling into his swimming pool. Not seeming to learn from these experiences, he boasts that he has had sex with everything that moves and has taken every drug ever invented and has enjoyed every minute. This is definitely not a message parents will embrace for their teens.
It can be a challenge for filmmakers to make an honest film about the life of a famous person while still making it clean enough for mass market viewing. But, we know that Fletcher is capable of doing so: he directed Academy-Award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody and depicted Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and substance abuse issues honestly and sensitively without being overly explicit. And I really wish Fletcher had managed to thread that needle here because Rocketman is a fascinating film. Young Reginald Dwight, played with charm and vulnerability by Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor, is a prodigiously gifted child, with a legendary musical ear and memory, able to play any song he hears. His parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steve Mackintosh), cold and critical, have no interest in their son, but his proud grandmother (Gemma Jones) nurtures his talent. Eventually young Reggie, now a pianist, vocalist, and composer who can’t write lyrics, fortuitously meets Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), a lyricist looking for a composer. Reggie renames himself Elton Hercules John, starts churning out tunes to go with Bernie’s lyrics, releases an album…and the rest is history.
This movie isn’t exactly a historical biopic though. Rocketman is less concerned with recreating the actual events of Elton John’s life than with portraying how it felt to be Elton John. And it uses his songs to tell the story. During the first, smashingly successful American concert, both Elton and the audience levitate to the sound of Crocodile Rock - a moment which communicates the ebullience and effervescence of the moment. And when Elton John feels disconnected from all sense of meaning in his life, he sings Rocketman while sitting in the bottom of the swimming pool where he has tried to kill himself. Yellow Brick Road is the soundtrack to the disintegration of his life and relationships. His inexplicable – and unexplained - marriage to a woman (Celinde Schoenmaker) is prefaced by Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. But the best moment in the film is when he sings Your Song. He’s singing for Bernie, and their enduring platonic friendship is the warm, emotional center of Elton’s out of control life.
Rocketman is filled with catchy song and dance numbers and bright, colorful concerts that bring audiences inside Elton John’s music and, to some extent, his life. It’s a musical fantasia, as bright and energetic as Elton John’s performances. But the content issues are so problematic that it is definitely not a fantastic family film. And that’s a shame…but I guess that’s why they call it the blues.Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Starring Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden, and Jamie Bell. Running time: 155 minutes. Theatrical release May 31, 2019. Updated June 19, 2019
Watch the trailer for Rocketman
Rating & Content Info
Violence: A man yells at his wife. There is a tussle in a bar with pushing and shoving. A man is chased by a group of men on motorcycles. An angry woman throws a man’s possessions off a balcony. A main character gets hit in the head with a soccer ball. A man punches his partner in an argument. A stoned character falls down the stairs; he has apparently had a heart attack. A main character attempts to kill himself by overdosing on pills and then falling into a swimming pool.
Sexual Content: A married woman makes out in a car with a man who is not her husband. The couple are seen kissing and groping and are heard moaning. There is a very brief scene where a man accosts a woman in an alleyway. A character urinates into a glass bottle in a car: no genitals are seen. A gay man tries to kiss a straight man but is gently rebuffed. A main character boasts about having sex with everything that moves. A man kisses a male friend on the cheek. Couples at a party are shown kissing and embracing. They are also shown dancing; many of the women are wearing revealing clothes with cleavage and midriffs exposed. A man and woman are shown embracing and sliding off clothes as they stand next to a bed. Two men kiss passionately, embrace, climb into bed together, and remove each other’s jeans; sexual activity is strongly implied. They are shown in a post-coital embrace. Two men are shown passionately kissing one another in a large storage closet. One of the men bites the other. There is a scene of implied sexual activity between two men which cannot be described on a family website; one man gets up and the other is shown doing up his pants. A man is shown being stripped of his clothes in a medical scene. A performer dresses in women’s clothing for a concert. A main character attends a club filled with people who are scantily dressed and dancing suggestively. He is kissed by three men at once; it is implied that one of them is performing a sexual act. There is an apparent orgy at the club: extremely scantily clad men and women embrace and writhe together on the floor.
Profanity: There are over three dozen profanities in this film, two dozen of which are sexual expletives. Dialogue includes scatological curses, crude anatomical terms, terms of deity and several derogatory terms for homosexuals.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Virtually all characters in this film drink frequently and often to excess. Main characters drink to handle stress and are shown drunk – sometimes very drunk. There is lots of social drinking. Background characters are shown smoking marijuana and using bongs. A main character repeatedly snorts cocaine and is shown overdosing on prescription drugs and chasing them with alcohol. A man character boasts about using every known drug and enjoying all of them. A performer shows up at a concert either high or drunk. A bulimic is shown throwing up in a toilet. On one occasion, blood drips from a man’s nose when he tries to snort cocaine.
Page last updated June 19, 2019
Rocketman Parents' Guide
Rocketman uses Elton John’s songs to articulate his emotional and psychological state. They basically become a soundtrack for his life. What songs would you choose to describe yourself? To narrate your life?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Elton John’s autobiography, Me, will be published in October of 2019.
Biographies about Elton John include Elton John: The Biography by David Buckley and His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John by Elizabeth Rosenthal. If you’re looking for less text and more costumed concert photos, you can turn to Elton John: This One’s for You by Carolyn Thomas.
For a detailed analysis of every Elton John/Bernie Taupin song and a discussion of their impact on pop music, check out Elton John: Fifty Years On: The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, which will be published in October 2019.
If you want to play the music instead of just reading about it, you can find piano/guitar/vocal music in Elton John – Greatest Hits 1970-2002. This compilation includes Elton and Bernie’s most popular hits. More elaborate arrangements for piano alone can be found in The Elton John Piano Solo Collection. And beginning pianists can hone their skills with Elton John – Greatest Hits Updated or Elton John – Easy Piano Solos.
Related home video titles:
For another rock music biopic set in the 1970s and 1980s (and with a PG-13 rating), check out Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of Freddie Mercury, lead singer for Queen.
It’s almost a cliché to group sex, drugs, and rock and roll together. But Elton John isn’t the only popular singer to struggle with substance abuse. Ray Charles struggled with drugs, including a heroin addiction. His story is told in Ray. And country singer Johnny Cash’s battle with drugs is depicted in Walk the Line.