Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Dexter Fletcher
scr Lee Hall
prd Matthew Vaughn, David Furnish, Adam Bohling, David Reid
with Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Gemma Jones, Steven Mackintosh, Stephen Graham, Charlie Rowe, Tom Bennett, Matthew Illesley, Kit Connor, Ophelia Lovibond, Celinde Schoenmaker
release UK 24.May.19,
US 31.May.19
19/UK Paramount 2h01

bell madden howard

Elton John executive produced this offbeat biopic, recounting his story in an impressionistic swirl of music and colour, from humble beginnings to soaring highs and grim lows. It's the standard tale of rock 'n' roll excess leading to both loneliness and addiction, but the approach here is darkly introspective. The film skilfully mixes the glamour with scruffiness, and of course a lot of great songs.
As he finally enters rehab, Elton (Egerton) is forced to unpeel the mess of his life, grappling with his childhood (played by Illesley then Connor) and relationships with his parents (Howard and Mackintosh), who addressed his prodigious talent in very different ways. Other key figures include record executives (Graham and Rowe) who almost accidentally discovered him and the manager (Madden) who introduced him to love. But most important is lyricist Bernie Taupin (Bell), who not only provided a key working connection but also a friendship that survived the tumultuous years of fame and self-destruction.
Writer Hall and director Fletcher give the film its own internal logic as a fantasy in which familiar songs pop up out of sequence to offer insight into key moments: his early days studying music as a child, his first triumphant foray into the Los Angeles music scene, the decadent days of world domination, the deep darkness of an out-of-control lifestyle. Grim without wallowing or moralising, this is a warts-and-all biopic presented with a fabulous flourish. The decadence is fun after all, even if it's killing him.

Egerton throws himself into the role with astonishing gusto, never shying away from the outrageous excesses while revealing layers of thoughtful emotion beneath the bravado. This sometimes makes the point rather forcefully, but it also feels true to both the story and the film's surreal extravagances. Side characters are also strong, particularly Bell's Taupin, the rock in John's stormy journey. Both Howard and Mackintosh bring sensitive textures to insensitive people, and Madden has terrific presence as a man who grabs John's (and the audience's) attention, then plays with it.

The timescale is never clarified, deliberately, ending in the early 1990s as John finally cleans up his act. This essentially gives the film the usual show business arc, with a nice tilt toward the enduring partnership between John and Taupin. Of course it's their songs that give the movie its soulfulness, providing each emotional gut punch and linking the fans inexorably to John's trajectory, as well as his legacy.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, sexuality 1.Jun.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall