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Watch Elton John and Taron Egerton Launch ‘Rocketman’ With Cannes Duet

CANNES, France — Bringing a slick studio film to the Cannes Film Festival carries plenty of risk: French journalists are unafraid to boo when they doubt a movie’s artistic bona fides, and a chorus of jeers can inspire headlines that are hard to recover from.

All that was on Dexter Fletcher’s mind Thursday night as the director debuted “Rocketman,” a flashy Paramount musical that traces the life story of Elton John via fantasy interludes set to John’s hit songs. But Fletcher’s greatest fear wasn’t how the oft-snooty French press would react to his film — it was what John himself would think.

Fortunately, Fletcher’s lead actor, the “Kingsman” star Taron Egerton, proved to be an able spy: Egerton was seated next to John and his writing partner, Bernie Taupin (played by Jamie Bell), and would often lean to his left to provide Fletcher with a whispered report.

“At points in the movie, Elton was grabbing Bernie and they were having a very emotional moment,” Fletcher recalled at the film’s after-party. “Taron kept nudging me, going, ‘He’s holding Bernie’s arm!’”

“Rocketman” went over well in its Croisette premiere, where comparisons to the recent hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” were unavoidable. After the director Bryan Singer was fired while the Queen biopic was still in production, it was Fletcher who stepped in to steer the film’s final weeks.

But “Rocketman” is more given to flights of fancy than “Bohemian Rhapsody”: When Egerton sings the title track, for example, the song begins at the bottom of a pool as John duets with his childhood self, then culminates with John blasting into space and exploding in a firework.

The story is told in flashback as John arrives for his first day in rehab still dressed in sequined stagewear, and after he confesses addictions to drugs, booze, sex, and shopping, the film flashes back to the incidents that might have shaped such a ravenous superstar. We learn that the young John was a piano prodigy with inattentive parents, which might account for the outrageous costumes John would later wear onstage, each sparkle demanding his audience’s full attention.

The arc of the film will feel familiar for anyone who’s seen “Bohemian Rhapsody” or most other musical biopics: Spectacular success begets trouble with drugs and alcohol, and soon the star’s most steadfast companions can do little but shake their heads. Will John be able to learn enough humility to kick his addictions? Spoiler alert: The film concludes with the song “I’m Still Standing,” and at age 72, John certainly is.

The triumphantly cheesy music video for that song was filmed on the beach at Cannes, where “Rocketman” held its after-party Thursday night and John eventually took the stage, seated behind a piano. “This has been a very emotional night for me,” John told a packed house that included David Geffen, the Paramount chief executive Jim Gianopulos, and one of the “Avengers: Endgame” directors, Joe Russo.

“Even if the movie doesn’t make one penny at the box office — which will kill Jim Gianopulos — it is the movie I wanted to make,” John said. “And that is sometimes a rare thing."

He reserved particular praise for Egerton, with whom he happened to co-star in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.”

“When I watch the movie, I don’t see an actor,” John said. “I see myself, and that is an extraordinary thing for an actor to do.” To his left, Egerton looked moved and nervous. “He’s going to sing tonight, because I want to make him really scared,” said John.

The two then launched into a duet of “Rocketman,” which you can watch below. It didn’t end with either participant exploding in a firework, but it may help “Rocketman” achieve liftoff when the film debuts stateside on May 31.

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