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3 reviews, 1 rating

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Nowhere Boy
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by MP Bartley

"Lennon had women problems before Yoko came along."
3 stars

Nowhere Boy opens with one of the most famous clanging chords in popular music - but that's about it as far as Beatles referencing goes in Sam Taylor-Wood's biopic of the teenage years of John Lennon. Instead of telling the story of the formative experiences of a musical icon, it's a film about the formative experiences of a confused and angry teenager.

And that is both the film's great strength and great flaw. It takes an extraordinary man, and grounds him in a resolutely ordinary world of arguments, tears and emotional fuck-ups - but why shouldn't it? Those interested in The Beatles and John Lennon surely know all the major beats in his life already, so why bother selling a familiar story to the converted? But equally, let's not dismiss it because of its small scale focus, as it's a smart and affecting film - but one that will look and play better on the small screen, than it will on the big.

John (Aaron Johnson) is torn between two women in his life; his stern disciplinarian Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott-Thomas) who he lives with, and his wild, devil-may-care mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who he has been estranged from, but has recently started to spend more time with. Mimi seemingly wants to put a stop to anything fun in John's life from bunking off school, to playing the kind of rock and roll music that he loves. Julia on the other hand is more akin to his free-spirited nature, taking him off for day-long jaunts to the beachside and teaching him his first musical chords. But the relationship between the two women is not as clear-cut as John first thinks and is instead a thorny mess of emotions that he has to work through himself.

For the Beatles obsessive, there are but a few hints as to the future life that John would live out - at one point he cycles past the iron gates to Strawberry Fields and the Cavern is also quite noticeable at one point. Other than that, Taylor-Wood sensibly plays down the more knowing aspects of the film (there are no clunky lines of dialogue foreshadowing Beatles song titles, for instance) and instead tries to explore Lennon's early years and work out just where his mother issues stemmed from that would become so prevalent in his music. For the most part, it's a study of teenage rebellion, as Lennon smokes, discovers girls, bunks off school and generally does everything most teenage boys do at some point. It's all done quite charmingly, however, with convincing period detail and Johnson's performance is a very good one as he fills Lennon with all the characteristics that are now legendary about him - his abrasive sarcasm, his charm, his loving nature, his volatile temper - but makes him a grounded and rooted character.

Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) is there in the background, but the few scenes that he does share with Lennon do hum with an instant chemistry between them. Sangster looks and acts much less like McCartney than Johnson does as Lennon, but what's important is that you can feel an early bond and love of music between them. The film never overplays its hand between the two, and while Paul is always there when John needs him, there's no portentous winking to the audience about what they would create together. Instead, the main emotional heft of the film comes with the scenes between John, Mimi and Julia - we can see just why John would want to spend so much time with Julia once they reconnect, but falls into the trap of not considering why he had to live with Mimi until it's too late. Mimi is also not the black and white strict matriarch you might think she is, either. By the time skeletons have fallen out of cupboards and secrets uncovered, everyone's character will have been reevaluated and it's no real surprise why Lennon grew up with the issues that he did. While Johnson is very good, it's Scott-Thomas who quietly steals the film away, always underplaying and suggesting a buttoned-up woman who's had to keep a check on her emotions for an unhealthily long time. The two share a good chemistry together, leading to a lovely final scene together as the two of them finally communicate together over the signing of a form.

There are no Beatles songs on the soundtrack (and while George Harrison gets only one scene of note, poor Ringo is not featured at all) and if you want a film of the life Lennon led from Hamburg to beyond, then this is not it. But it's an affecting and genuine film nonetheless and as an insight into Lennon's feelings on maternal figures, it's considerably more pleasurable than listening to Mother umpteen times over.

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originally posted: 10/07/10 01:53:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Provincetown International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/14/11 Matt Ferrell Great Movie about Lennon. 5 stars
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  08-Oct-2010 (R)
  DVD: 25-Jan-2011


  DVD: 25-Jan-2011

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