Nowhere Boy Review

By the time John Lennon met a tragic and untimely end outside the Dakota, he had already cultivated a complex, oft-stand-offish image as a socially aware artist in a constant state of flux. If the previous statement is something you balk at, add yourself to the seemingly limitless cadre of Lennon fans – the cult around the man is prone to dizzying highs and fascinating lows. Lennon remains such a draw as an individual because there seems to be multiple forces that had always pulled at the heart of the artist and his music reflects this – granted the man was a hugely talented songwriter.

Though not nearly as much of a chameleon as one Robert Zimmerman [Editor's note: Bob Dylan, in case you didn't know], Lennon can’t be summed up simply – and director Sam Taylor-Wood smartly avoids making a film about the John Lennon, instead focusing on a John Lennon (Aaron Johnson of Kick-Ass), seen in Nowhere Boy as a rebellious, lewd and occasionally painfully shy young schoolboy. Consistently wavering between confidently boasting and helplessly reaching out to anyone who can quell the pain inside, the young John is propelled between two equally influential forces – his prim and proper aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, solid) and his absentee mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff, excellent).

When John ingratiates itself into Julia’s life (or rather, she flings him along as Ms. Duff paints a portrait of a painfully earnest woman who wants to leave her past far behind), Mimi boils with silent rage after years of being John’s caretaker. Where Julia grooves to rock’n’roll, Mimi settles herself down to read, inevitably smoking while classical music plays in the background. Frankly, who do you think would lure John into her abode, day after day?

It is an interesting choice to focus the film on the relationship between two surrogate mothers as a backdrop for Lennon’s own coming of age and a budding interest in music.It falls to Mr. Johnson to bring the legend to silver screen life and while he’s not the first to do it, he is certainly among the more compelling performances delivered. His Lennon is a messy amalgam of cooler-than-thou hepcat and lost little boy – a fair shake given the real man’s frequent focus on both the sheer cool of The Beatles and his personal demons.

Johnson’s Lennon does not fare well with either fools or friends but exhibits a commanding presence that if anything, often weaken the film, launching it into a strange sitcom-y zone where everyone is cheeky and dialogue flies fast and furious. It’s a wonder that the young cast does so well with what sometimes sounds like an overcooked script - Thomas Brodie-Sangster especially manages to squeeze real emotion from an all too-brief role as the singular Paul McCartney. The soundtrack is another big plus, supplementing the film with choice cuts from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and devoting an entire scene to an immortal song by Screamin' Jay Hawkins that you will surely know.

As a biography of John Lennon’s most formative years, Nowhere Boy is an adept film anchored by strong work from the cast and crew – and as a result is a pleasant film to look at and listen to. This DVD does not skimp on either department with rich colors and clear sound that elegantly differentiates dialogue and music. As an addition to the Beatles mythos, Sam-Taylor Wood has crafted an occasionally unwieldy but generally above average film that veers away from the obvious to show how a few drops in a bucket would later have epic reverberations. As a portrait of John Lennon, Nowhere Boy tells the story of a man who probably never found peace, but in his struggle inspired countless others to look for their place in the sun.

DVD Bonus Features

Four minutes of deletes scenes and two featurettes, the 8-minute “The Making of Nowhere Boy” and 13-minute “Nowhere Boy: The Creation of John Lennon and The Beatles”, fill out some of the background history on the film but a hardcore Beatles fan would deem this slim pickings, while a novice would be turned off by the surface superficiality of the whole thing.

"Nowhere Boy" is on sale January 25, 2011 and is rated R. Biopic, Drama. Directed by Sam Taylor Wood. Written by Julia Baird (memoir), Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay). Starring Aaron Johnson, Anne Marie Duff, Kristin Scott Thomas, Thomas Sangster.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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