I have always been a fan of this man’s music. Believe he is one of the great music writers of all time in pop music. And have seen him live in concert a number of times. Why am I telling you all this at the beginning of a film review, you might ask. Well, to divulge the fact that I went into this one with some expectations. Raised ones. Ones that in the end were not exactly met.
While Dexter Fletcher’s (Eddie the Eagle) film is a decent one, I feel it does not live up to the standards of the man himself. A standard set during his decades long music career. But such is often the foible of bio-pics. Not enough time and breadth to tell the true and complete picture of a human’s life. Especially when they have lived a life filled with such drama and excess as Reginald Dwight or Elton John, as well all know and love him.
What the film does do well is give us a peep into his life as a young boy. His life before he took on the name Elton John and became known worldwide. Told from the perspective of Elton entering into rehab and telling his life story in a group session.
His life as a young boy and man as Reginald Dwight is not shown to be a very happy one. As a young boy (Matthew Illesley – first film) he lived in a home without very much love or affection. Affection he so craved from his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh – Underworld: Evolution, Memphis Belle) and bitter bitter mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard – Jurassic World, The Help). Only his grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones – Bridget Jones’s Diary, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) shows any kind of love and support of his piano playing.
Piano playing is something that is shown to come naturally for Reginald. From the very first time he sat down at the upright in his family’s living room and was able to play by ear what he heard on the radio, it was apparent that the youngster had talent. So much so that he earned a scholarship to a music school.
After that formal eduation, Reginald (Taron Egerton – Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sing) goes on to play some gigs in small clubs and is discovered by a young man (Charlie Rowe – Never Let Me Go, The Golden Compass) who works with a music manager. Reginald takes on the name Elton (after a bandmate) John (after John Lennon) and a rock star is born.
The key moment in his career is when Elton meets lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot, Fantastic Four). As the saying goes, with Elton’s music and Bernie’s words, the two begin making beautiful music together. Songs like “Rocket Man”, “Tiny Dancer”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “The Bitch is Back”, and “Daniel” followed. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for the duo. They became megastars…or at least Elton did.
But that did not make him happy. The love he did not get as a child followed him around. Though he had fame, adoration, success, and money, Elton was not happy. That led to him abusing alcohol and drugs. He totally fell down that rabbit hole and that began to unravel his friendships and music career.
Elton even begins to hate the persona he has created for himself. On stage he is wild and flamboyant while off he is angry and sad. Elton hides who he truly is which is not surprising as he is a gay man which is not widely accepted at the time. He begins a relationship (of the personal and business variety) with the manipulative and honestly, abusive John Reid (Richard Madden – from television’s Bodyguard). Elton is spiralling.
As of late you cannot blink and you get a new British music film. From the highly successful Bohemian Rhapsody to Rocketman to the even newer Yesterday featuring the music of the Beatles, British music is being celebrated. This one is more musical fantasy than bio-pic. Really the story being told here only exists between the music.
Though there is a story in between the music/dance numbers. As opposed to Bohemian Rhapsody which just featured music from Queen and Freddie Mercury in the format of in studio and concerts, Dexter’s film features typical musical scenes with song and dance being woven into the story. I am first to admit that I love a good musical, but the key word in there is “good”. The musical numbers here were rather disappointing for me. Part of the fault has to fall on Taron Egerton’s shoulders. He looks rather out of place in these scenes. Not a great mover or dancer.
Moving on from that weakness, the rest of Egerton’s portrayal is wonderful. By the end of the film I believed that he “is” Elton John. Whereas I felt that Rami Malek offered a rather karaoke version of Freddie Mercury, Egerton is not just copying the star, he is becoming the man. There are layers, nuances and, in plain English, acting going on. Plus he shows (which he also did in Sing) that he can sing.
The rest of the cast is also good with one exception – Bryce Dallas Howard. First of all, this is a strange casting decision. An American playing a Brit is rarely a good idea. Surely there was a British actress up to the task. Especially since there are only two female characters of note here – mom and grandma. The problem is compounded when Howard decides to really ham it up. The only over the top person here should be Elton.
As you might expect the costumes here are amazing. As colourful, sparkly and feather adorned as one would expect. Great honour is played to the source material. The replicas of the great on stage outfits Elton John wore are amazing.