Director: Dexter Fletcher
Screenwriter: Lee Hall
Stars: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden
I’m not a big Elton John fan. I like a lot of his 70s output and a few other songs here and there, so I come to this not knowing very much about his personal life.
The film starts with Elton in a rehab meeting, dressed a little more flamboyantly than anyone else, he begins to tell the story of what led him here. As a young boy growing up in post-war London young Reggie Dwight, for that is his real name, shows an aptitude for piano. His father is aloof and distant towards the boy and his mother – a barely recognisable Bryce Dallas Howard – is more concerned with chasing her own desires than her son’s future. So the only encouragement comes from his grandmother, who takes him to study at the Royal Academy of Music.
Young Reggie soon gets his first gig in his local pub and that is the catalyst for the film’s first big musical number, and it is impressive! Where this film differs from Bohemian Rhapsody, to which it will no doubt be compared, is this film is a musical in the true MGM sense of the word. During the narrative, people break into Elton’s back catalogue and start singing their feelings, and in the scene where we transition from young Reggie to teenage Reggie, it’s an all singing, all dancing extravaganza. These moments of musical fantasy happen throughout the film and it’s impossible not to have a big wide grin on your face when they do. They’re full of joy and energy and that’s something I think a lot of modern musicals lack.
Teenage Reggie gets a job in a backing band and hones his craft, and discovers his sexual leanings, but no matter how good a piano player he is, he’s unable to get a record deal without original songs. So they pair him up with lyricist Bernie Taupin and history is made. I must say a word about Jamie Bell at this point. I’ve never really liked him as an actor. He always came across as arrogant in interviews and I think he was over-rated by British critics when he did Hollywood movies. I remember a certain reviewer saying Bell ran rings around Hayden Christensen in Jumper, but I couldn’t see it. I thought they were both fine, but neither noticeably better than the other. Anyway, I will eat my words with this performance. Anyone who has ever heard Bernie Taupin interviewed will know he has a very strange accent, and Bell nails it perfectly. His whole restrained performance is the yang to Egerton’s manic yin, as Elton descends into alcoholism and drug addiction.
If you wondered how much Dexter Fletcher really contributed to Bohemian Rhapsody, this film will make you wonder how much Bryan Singer actually did on it. Fletcher seems more at home in this genre than Singer would ever be, maybe because he started his career long ago on the classic children’s musical Bugsy Malone – yes, he was Baby Face, remember?
This is easily Fletcher’s most confident and creatively interesting movie to date. The song and dance sequences are carried off with aplomb, and the recreations of Elton’s performance in Tommy and some of his music videos will make a lot of fans smile. It’s not all fun and games though, Elton’s destructive relationship with his manager John Reid (Richard Madden) will really make you feel for the kid who gets too much too soon, but Fletcher is just as accomplished with these small, emotional scenes as he is at recreating huge concerts.
Taron Egerton throws himself into the role wholeheartedly and captures the energy and excitement of Elton’s early live performances with the swagger and poise of the man himself. His cocaine and alcohol addiction isn’t lingered on as much as it probably should be, but even this serves to keep the film upbeat and entertaining.
I’m a much bigger Queen fan than I am an Elton fan, but I have to admit, this is the better movie. Its scale, invention and sheer exuberance elevate it way above your average biopic.