You know that this movie isn’t going to be a straight forward music biopic when it begins with Taron Egerton’s Elton John strides into an AA meeting dressed as a giant orange devil. The rehab framing device is used extremely well, not only explaining why Elton is telling us his whole story but also showing how he comes to reflect and respond to what’s happened to his life.
The film uses John’s amazing back catalogue to move the story along, charting his development from shy kid Reg Dwight to the pop music colossus he would become. There’s debauchery, decadence and depression along the way, but in the end it’s an oddly uplifting tale of one man’s drive and talent elevating him. The musical aspect works especially well given that music seems to be a force for a good throughout Elton’s life. It’s what brings him out of his shell and improves his life, and his depression begins when all the other stuff, the drugs, the relationships start to get in the way of the music.
What I found really good about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from the fact that Elton John was often a difficult person and that he is at times selfish, self indulgent and temperamental. The film doesn’t excuse this, but does give a reason for some of his behaviour. John is presented as a fragile guy, unhappy in childhood and pushed into the limelight, his desire for love and fear of being abandoned leads him to lash out, latch on to undesirable people and hide in a security blanket of drugs. The drugs are also used in some way to keep him going, providing the energy to keep him on a relentless treadmill of gigs and recordings.
Egerton’s performance is mesmerising work, totally engaging and at the centre of almost every scene he captures the fragility and sadness beautifully, while also managing to convey some of the swagger and character that made Elton John a star. There’s a scene where he sits morosely back stage and adopts a big, showy grin which then drops completely which is one of the standout moments for me, a perfect capturing of Elton John’s onstage facade.
He’s charming and likeable at the start but does also convey the less savoury aspects of the story, such as when he pushes aside his long term friend and musical partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). It’s a warped logic that fearing being abandoned by his best friend, Elton pushes him away.
It’s the relationship between John and Taupin which is the emotional heart of the movie, with their platonic love story being warm and engaging. Bell’s Taupin seems a much more grounded character, someone who realises earlier on than Elton that the drugs aren’t helping and that he needs to pull back, to return to the days when it was just them and the music. His support and friendship for Elton helps him to grow as a performer and he’s the one constant in his life, and the first to really have faith in Elton. Their interactions are well done and Bell’s quiet, easygoing performance is extremely well done.
As for villains there are a couple in the mix, people who effect Elton negatively along the way. There are his parents who never fully engage with him and are distant and cold, his mother later benefiting from his riches but also delivering a heartbreaking moment when her son comes out to her over the phone. The scene is extremely moving as we watch John’s reaction to her comments.
But the major baddie is John Reid, John’s manager played by Richard Madden, it’s odd to see him so horrible here when you felt rather sorry for the same man in Bohemian Rhapsody when he’s double crossed and fired as Freddie’s manager. Here however, he’s shown as being just as manipulative and abusive, controlling and milking John’s career. Their first meeting and sex scene shows his charm and attractiveness, but it soon becomes clear he’s less interested in Elton as a person and more in the potential cash earnings.
It’s a sad, sad situation that Elton finds himself in and the story is handled well, with Elton investing so much into the relationship as the first opportunity to find someone who loves him, of course, he’s so eager for this he ignores the signs that all is not well.
The film moved me several times, pushing me to the verge of tears at times but also being oddly heartwarming. John and Taupin’s friendship, the support from his nan, the gleeful love of music and the redemption arc at the end all left me feeling positive, but it’s a rough road to get there. It’s a wonderfully done musical biopic which should be commended for not shying away from the darker aspects of the story, but through a supreme performance by Egerton we are always invested and care about Elton.
Also, the songs are absolute belters and cleverly used throughout the movie. Fantastic stuff.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.