NOWHERE BOY: The Film Babble Blog Review

NOWHERE BOY (Dir. Sam Taylor-Wood, 2010)

The famous guitar chord that kicks off the song and the movie A HARD DAY’S NIGHT also begins this film in which we see a 17 year old John Lennon running down a Liverpudian sidewalk.

But he’s not being chased by a crowd of screaming teenage girls – that wouldn’t be for several years – he’s apparently caused some mischief and it looks like the police may be after him.

As embodied by Aaron Johnson (the kid from KICK-ASS!) the Lennon of 1958 is a tall kid with an Elvis style pompadour. Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Wild One” tells us what we need to know about his character during the opening titles.

Lennon lives with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall) who he’s really close to. Uncle George dies and at his funeral Lennon catches a glimpse of a red-haired woman named Julia. Beatles fans should know that this is Lennon’s mother.

Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), for reasons that aren’t clear, had left her 5 year son in the care of Aunt Mimi. Lennon has flashes of memories from his past but they’re too fleeting to be of much narrative use.

While suspended from school Lennon hides out at his mother’s house bonding with her as she teaches him how to play the banjo. When she finds out, Aunt Mimi is furious and Lennon decides he’d rather stay with his mother.

He also decides to start a skiffle band called the Quarrymen and recruits some of his fellow students. At one of their first concerts Lennon meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) who says he’s 15, but he looks like he’s 8 years old.

However this isn’t about the birth of the biggest band in the world – which are never named incidentally – it’s about the young Lennon’s relationships with his mother and his Aunt and how these 2 diametrically oppossed personalities shaped his psyche.

Johnson carries the film with a convincing Lennon. His accent is dead-on and doesn’t come off as a thick or cheap impression at all. The British actor has got down the phrasing of sarcastic quips as well as Lennon’s brooding intensity that I didn’t think he had in him after seeing “Kick-Ass”. Not that he was bad in that previous film – there just weren’t hints of anything like this.

Anne-Marie Duff rises above the screenplay’s painting of Julia as a flighty flirty floozy. Scott-Thomas scowls effectively as the angry yet loving Aunt and she steals many of the scenes she’s in.

David Morrissey as Lennon’s step-father mostly just looks on disapprovingly while Sangster makes the most of the small yet pivotal part of Paul.

“Nowhere Boy” is respectful and heartfelt but it’s not without its shortcomings. The arc of the supposed mystery of why Julia abandoned her son is handled in a hazy way marring the impact of the payoff.

This doesn’t mean it’s not extremely worthwhile – Like Lennon himself its charms outweigh its defects. Especially considering its sensational ‘50s soundtrack including classics from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Gene Vincent, and one of Lennon’s greatest influences: Elvis Presley.

Johnson does his own vocals throughout the film, but the real Nowhere Man is featured via an alternate take of “Mother” which plays on top of the obligatory yet unavoidable black and white archival photo montage conclusion.

More later…