Directed by: Dexter Fletcher – Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard
Music biopics are all the rage right now, following the enormous success of Bohemian Rhapsody.
But if you thought Freddie Mercury’s life was flamboyant, think again. Elton John’s escapades make it look like he lived in a regular flat, and worked in an office! Even if you’re not a fan of Elton’s music, his larger-than-life persona can’t have escaped your attention, given how widely reported it has been.
You definitely can’t help but be aware of this film also, as both Elton and its star, Taron Egerton, have been hitting the publicity trail pretty heavily. The tagline states “based on a true fantasy”, and from the very opening scene, it is clear that they are not going for a straight drama.
An outrageously costumed Elton sits in a self-help group, which acts as a way in to his story. Alongside this conceit, which they dip in and out of throughout, they use his songs to move the story along, musical-theatre style. This does mean that the music is chronologically out of sync, but it allows Fletcher to indulge in pure whimsy in places. Suffice to say, this is unlike most biopics you will see.
It is also somewhat unique in its honest portrayal of the film’s subject. There is a tendency to deify artists on the big-screen, irrespective of any historic bad behaviour. You would imagine the temptation was there for John, who is a co-producer of this. But he wisely chooses to go for the warts and all version, and the movie is all the better for it. There is no glossing over his sexuality, his excessive drug use, his alcoholism, or any of his other foibles. His legendary tantrums are shown in full flow, and it is fair to say that, at times, he doesn’t come out of it well. However, Egerton is so engaging as the charismatic performer (and even does his own singing) and that, along with the whimsical style in which it is shot, means he gets away with it.
Egerton is ably supported by his cast-mates. Bell is wonderful as his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, and although her accent slips once or twice, Howard does a great job of portraying his mother, Sheila, with whom he had a well-publicised contentious relationship. Madden’s Reid is far more rounded than the caricature we got in Bo Rap, and Fletcher has directed them with aplomb.
The musical arrangements are wonderful, and will give you a whole new perspective of some of John’s songs. What’s really interesting is, that while it is his indeed his music, Taupin actually wrote the lyrics to his biggest hits, and yet the words fit his life so well!
The outfits actually deserve their own credit, and if this doesn’t win at least a couple of awards for costume-design, there is no justice. Many of his most outrageous looks are featured here, and while a little artistic licence is taken (particularly in the outfits at his first wedding) they really do stun.
Taking us from his childhood up the moment he finally got sober 28 years ago, this is an absolute roller-coaster from start to finish. It’s a true musical fantasy. Egerton may not really look like John (and the blackout make up that they’ve used to give him Elton’s famous toothy gap is somewhat distracting in close ups) but he is definitely channelling him.
The whimsical musical style works well, since you imagine it is pretty much how life looked inside Elton John’s head, before he got clean. I’m sure there is much that has been glossed over, but it really does feel like you get to the crux of his story, and understand him a bit more at the end of it.
This is great fun and a heartfelt tribute to Elton, and it is the biopic many others wish they had been.
In Cinemas Now!