<Todd>’s review published on Letterboxd:
"As long as the fun isn’t missing me who gives a fuck" - Elton John, depressed, lonely and drunk.
“I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road” -Elton John reflecting.
- 2019 Ranked: boxd.it/2lsbC
Vodka for breakfast... been there.
I'm not even sure it is most accurate to call this a musical biopic as much as it is to call it a movie about dealing with self-doubt, self-hatred, losing the will to live, never feeling loved in your life, and the difficulty of moving on... even when you are one of the most influential musicians in world history. In that way I think this is one of the best films about a musician that I have ever watched because for the first time ever, I felt like I understood the person behind the music, not just that I saw a quick Cliffsnotes version of their life with a happy triumphant concert at the end.
Framing the whole film in terms of his recovery meeting for drugs and alcohol is a wonderful choice. I feel like in society we often compare traumas as if to say if one trauma is worse than another and as if to imply the people impacted by the lesser trauma need to shut up. I read an article on Slate.com about how Elton John is a jerk in this film and all I could think is why don't you ask why? And are you sure? At times in our culture we tend to take a person with an anger problem as being a wholly horrible person that needs to be ostracized from society when oftentimes they are people crying out for help.
I think one thing that might transcend the boundaries of race, gender, class, etc. is that to grow up as a child never feeling like your parents especially like you is soul-crushing. Never having a person in your life that has made you feel loved unconditionally is a true mind-fuck. Never having the belief that people think of you much more than for your use to them in that moment is tough. It's easy to write off that feeling by saying something dense like "Ugh just some pathetic guy who wanted to be hugged more" but what's wrong with wishing you had been hugged more? And also if someone wishes they were hugged more isn't that likely a sign that they were also craving a bit more love and stability in their life? It doesn't mean that person has a right to be an asshole but maybe we should be more sympathetic to why that guy struggles with being an asshole. Some of the stuff between him and his parents is just crushing to me. When he visits his dad to talk and the dad has two new sons and Elton sees a more stable home and the dad being more loving to the two boys I just really felt that. When his mom tells him he'll never be properly loved, OUCH. When his grandmother who loves him so much still rationalizes away the dad's complete neglect of him... it's rough. This doesn't mean someone can't have a successful life but is it so hard to understand why people like that would have trouble keeping friends and would test boundaries? I get why he wears weird clothes to hide his true self. I understand why he has trouble feeling emotions. And, I think much of that is because of the writing and direction.
I can only hope that other people that deal with the rage that can come with some of these issues have a friend like Bernie in their life. The representation of the friendship between Elton John and Bernie Taupin is one of the most amazing love stories that I have watched in the last few years, and they were never lovers but what they share is truly what love is. He, and to a lesser extent his grandmother, is the only person in Elton John's life that loves him unconditionally. Elton John yells at Bernie, runs away from Bernie, looks for every reason to hate Bernie, and Bernie just remains calm knowing Elton is a tortured soul that is trying. Bernie is confident enough in himself to understand that his friend is not mad at him but mad at the world and just reminds him he wants to help. Bernie is not a pushover, he is the strongest person in Elton's life. He was the first person in Elton's life to really love him and treat him well. The scene where Elton is insecure due to Bernie wanting to spend more time with a girl is painful and real and it cracked open my heart and beat it death. It's wonderful. I should also say there is a part in the film where someone Elton John loves says "You were never ordinary" but says it in such a sweet and sincere way that this is one of the times I cried. I think many people don't understand how people that are gruff on the outside and considered problematic just really need to be told that they are understood and/or loved. The message in the end, that it is important to forgive but that it is just important to say "stop, I won't let you talk to me like this or treat me like this anymore" is powerful and hit me hard. This is one of the first films about a musician where I felt like problems with drugs and alcohol were taken seriously and not just treated as a plot point.
I don't know if Taron Egerton does the best job of feeling exactly like Elton John but he does the best fucking job of representing the Elton John of this script. Artistically, I find the film to be wonderful as well. I should say that I'm not an especially big fan of Elton John (I am more now) but I found the way music was presented in this movie to be done wonderfully and to be emotional. Who knows how realistic these stories are but the way lyrics from songs were beautifully weaved into the struggles of his life is great.
Yes, watch it.