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Nowhere Boy (2010) ***

October 14, 2010


Written by: Julia Baird (novel) and Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay)

Produced by: Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader, and Douglas Rae

Directed by: Sam Taylor-Wood

Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality

98 mins.

U.S. Release Date: October 8, 2010 (limited)


Most all the planet is very aware of the career of musical icon John Lennon.  Very few, outside of Beatles mega fans, are knowledgeable of Lennon’s life as a young man and his troubled upbringing.  U.K. native and industry newcomer Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy follows a high-school aged Lennon as he navigates through his adolescence, reconnects with his deserting birth mother, and begins a friendship with Paul McCartney.  Over the last decade, film-going audiences have been relentlessly peppered with biopics about various iconic characters.  The difference between Nowhere Boy and so many other biopics is that we don’t get even a taste of the famous and older John Lennon, as opposed to a condensed story spanning over several decades through Lennon’s massive career.  This film plays as a domestic drama in a Liverpool neighborhood… that just happens to feature Lennon as the focal point.  Will this format of biopic work with audiences?  Are filmgoers ok with simply seeing the back story of a famous person’s life, rather than experiencing the rush of stardom?

 

 

 

John Lennon (played by Aaron Johnson – best known for playing the title role in Kick-Ass) is a troubled teenager who lives in Liverpool, England with his frigid and controlling Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas).  Lennon has minimal respect for school and, upon seeing a film starring Elvis Presley, begins a quest to achieve hordes of lady-friends and stardom through music.  Young John’s teenage life is quickly disrupted when he runs into his birth mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) who is looking to re-kindle a relationship with her long-lost son.  Knowing of obvious strife between is Aunt Mimi and his mother, John spends his days sneaking over to his mother’s house to get to know her and her family (she has a husband and two small children), as well as playing banjo and guitar.  Lennon’s time with his mother, who teaches him to play the banjo, accelerates his love for music and his aspirations to start a band.

 

 

John quickly starts a band, the Quarrymen, with a group of school kids, one of those members being Paul McCartney.  The boys play county fairground, community centers, and churches, while their local fan base grows.  On the home front, however, things are getting tenser for John.  As his new-found relationship with his mother grows, things with Mimi only get more difficult at home.  The events that follow play a major part in what shapes Lennon’s worldview and strengthens his relationship with McCartney.

 

As a “newcomer” to feature films, Taylor-Wood handles this film with the touch of a veteran.  Dialogue-heavy drama is a tough genre to tackle in a first feature, especially when the main characters are known throughout the world.  The mundane life of Liverpool in the late 1950s and early 60s mixed with the rush of American rock n’ roll coming into England at the time is conveyed very well, as all the young English boys strive to be Elvis and dress like greasers.  The “Americanization” of England as a backdrop and the family turmoil amongst the Lennon family create an interesting juxtaposition that makes for an entertaining and insightful drama.

 

 

After seeing Kick-Ass, though Aaron Johnson filmed Nowhere Boy prior to Kick-Ass, I was unsure about how his portrayal of the young John Lennon would turn out.  However, Johnson’s performance seemed spot on, from the look to the sing-songy Lennon speech patterns.  After seeing the film, I looked back at some early photos of Lennon playing with The Quarrymen, and the resemblance between Johnson and Lennon is remarkable.  The young actor shows great maturity in a role that spans from tail-chasing teen to handling serious tragedy and intense family situations.  I would not go as far to say the performance is Oscar-worthy, but very good nonetheless.

 

If you like Lennon’s work solo or with The Beatles, you enjoy British films, or specifically the 2009 film An Education, you will definitely have appreciation for Nowhere Boy.  The film shines a light into a time in Lennon’s life that very few know about, and it goes against the grain of the standard biopic genre.  In a sea of films that show iconic characters over a period of many years, and serve as a platform for actors to strut their best imitations, Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy is a refreshing take on a great real-life character.

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