cannes 2019

How Gay is Rocketman?

Photo: David Appelby/Paramount Pictures

Last year, Bohemian Rhapsody straight-washed and sanitized Freddy Mercury, watering down Freddie’s famously and fabulously queer life with nary a gay sex scene in sight. The film played it so safe that even conservative helicopter parents agreed it’d be fine to send their impressionable youth to see it. Which is why, for months, critics have been speculating that Dexter Fletcher — the director who took the Rhapsody reins from Bryan Singer — might do the same thing with Rocketman, the Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton as another openly queer icon.

Back in March, (terrifying) rumors flew that Paramount had asked Fletcher to tone down a gay sex scene between Egerton and Richard Madden, who plays John’s former lover and manager John Reid. Fletcher took to Twitter to dispel the reports, promising a “no-holds-barred musical fantasy,” and, in the run-up to its Cannes premiere Thursday night, the film’s cast and crew doubled down from a PR standpoint, reassuring the public they’d get an “uncensored,” “raw” take on John’s life. Producer Matthew Vaughn told reporters that John had told him to go “as R-rated as you need to” in regards to his troubled childhood, drug and alcohol abuse, trip to rehab, and sex life. Egerton told Attitude magazine that he and Madden took their sex scene “as far as they could go,” and told British GQ that the scene was “pretty explicit.”

So: Just how gay is Rocketman? After seeing it bright and early this morning on the Croisette, Vulture is ready to weigh in, and also slightly delirious. Let’s review the evidence, shall we?

—The film begins with Elton storming down a hallway in a rehab facility, resplendent in a flame-orange bellbottomed bodysuit, gigantic wings, devil horns, massive platforms, and glittery heart-shaped sunglasses. Ruling: Rather Gay.

—We’re soon transported back to Elton’s childhood in suburban England, where the cherub-faced fledgling superstar (who looks a lot like Prince George) prances around his drab 1950s neighborhood, singing “The Bitch is Back.” Ruling: Profoundly Gay.

—Bryce Dallas Howard shows up as John’s mother, a classically depressed 1950s suburban housewife, complete with a frilly nightgown, curled hair, daytime lipstick, and daytime martinis. She flips through magazines while berating her absentee husband and asks young Elton to help her cut out paper dolls. Ruling: Gay in a Camp, Todd Haynes Sense.

—Before his gig at the Troubadour makes him an overnight sensation, young Elton asks a fellow singer how he, a “fat boy from Pinner,” could ever be expected to become a “soul singer.” Later, his mom ridicules him for his “fat little legs.” All the while, Taron Egerton has the body of, well, Taron Egerton. Ruling: Pretty Gay.

—Elton’s obsession with his receding hairline is a recurring plot point. His mother first brings it up five minutes into the film, telling him he’ll be “bald by 20.” As he gets older, he frequently touches his hair, looking forlornly into a mirror as it slowly fades; at various points, his mother and his lover both reach over and lightly pat his hairline, concerned. Ruling: Gay in a Birdcage Sense.

—Elton makes out with a fellow singer backstage at a concert. Later, the singer cheekily calls him a “faggot” and forces him out of the closet in front of his best friend and collaborator, Bernie Taupin. Ruling: Gay in the Most Literal Sense.

—Elton and a shirtless John Reid make out passionately in front of a window. John removes Elton’s glasses gently, then the two fall into bed, tearing off each other’s jeans. John tops Elton, and we get a small glimpse of John’s tush before the camera tilts up toward the window, Call Me By Your Name style. There are no full thrusts. Ruling: Gay and Hot, But Honestly … Not Gay Enough.

—John visits Elton while he’s recording in the studio. He invites him into a closet, where the two make out again; Elton bites his lip sexily and asks John to have dinner with him. I realize I am attracted to Taron Egerton. I’m briefly troubled but soon come to terms with it. Ruling: Pretty Gay, But Why Didn’t They Have Sex Again? Where Are The Thrusts?

—Elton calls his mom from one of those cute little red London phone booths and comes out to her. Ruling: Gay in an Audrey Hepburn Sense.

—John Reid gets a blowjob from his secretary in front of a pool. We only see the top of his head, though. (Not that head, an actual head.) Ruling: Gay, But Only in Concept.

—I’m pretty sure we get a light glimpse of Taron Egerton’s dick in the hospital, after he jumps into a pool, stuffed to the gills with pills, and tries to kill himself. I cannot confirm nor deny that we see Taron Egerton’s dick. Ruling: Jury’s Still Out.

—Elton goes to an orgy and makes out with a man dressed as a sailor. We see him fall into the sea of bodies but do not actually see any fucking. Ruling: Gay in a Sailing Sense.

—“I have fucked everything that moves,” Elton tells his own mother over dinner. Ruling: Rather Gay.

—Elton tells his rehab group that he has “been a cunt since 1975.” Ruling: Gay in a Jessica Lange Sense.

Final Ruling: Rocketman is gay on a macro level, with a globally gay sensibility and a lot of platform boots. However, on a scene-by-scene level, it is simply not gay enough. One Richard Madden tush does not a “pretty explicit” gay sex scene make. Dexter Fletcher, before the film’s release next week, I implore you: add at least two thrusts, and also, please let me know if that was Taron Egerton’s dick? Thank you.

How Gay is Rocketman?