Director: Sam Taylor Wood
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas,
Thomas Sangster, David Morrissey, Anne-Marie Duff, Josh Bolt
RunTime: 1 hr 38 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: http://www.nowhereboy.co.uk/
Opening Day: 23 September 2010
John Lennon's childhood. Liverpool 1955: a smart and troubled
fifteen year-old is hungry for experience. In a family full
of secrets, two incredible women clash over John: Mimi, the
buttoned-up Aunt who raised him, and Julia, the prodigal mother.
Yearning for a normal family, John escapes into the new and
exciting world of rock n' roll where his fledgling genius
finds a kindred spirit in the teenage Paul McCartney. Just
as John begins his new life, tragedy strikes. But a resilient
young man finds his voice - and an icon explodes into the
Perhaps the most enigmatic individual of the four Beatles is John Lennon, the de facto leader of the quartet and whose teenage years are the basis of British artist-turned-filmmaker Sam Taylor Woodís feature debut. The biopic covers five years of Johnís life, from the death of his beloved Uncle George (David Threlfall) at the age of 15 to his departure to Hamburg with fellow Beatles members Paul McCartney and George Harrison at the age of 19 (fans may recall that their Hamburg tour in August 1960 was one of the earliest of the group).
But those looking for some answers to the formative years of the Beatles better look elsewhere- Taylor-Wood mostly glosses over these events, focusing instead on Johnís relationship with two mothers. The first is his birth mother Julia (Anne Marie-Duff), who had from a young age left him in the care of her sister, Mimi (Kristin Scott-Thomas) whom by default has become his second and true mother over the years. The death of Uncle George leads him to discover Julia, her free-wheeling spirit in stark contrast to the stern and emotionally distant Mimi.
The subsequent push-pull relationship among the trio of characters is the centrepiece of this film. Julia is fun-loving and happy-going, but the facade of her carefree smile hides a damaged inner core with a potentially devastating secret for John. Julia introduces him to the world of rock-n-roll, protects his rebellious behaviour and ignites his interest in becoming a musician. Compare Julia to Mimi- who insists on Johnís proper education and regards his rock-n-roll interest with at best skepticism and at worst disdain- and youíll understand why John is quickly drawn to Julia.
The first hour of the film takes its time delineating these relationships, but Matthew Greenhalghís script and Taylor-Woodís direction presents the events too matter-of-factly. The result is a biopic that feels less engaging than a life of someone like John Lennon should be. Of course, the film would like its audience to see John as just a typical schoolboy rebel then, but the storytelling could still do with more spirit and less detachment. Fortunately, the last half-hour ends the film on a poignant note, the final confrontation between John, Mimi and Julia simply heart-wrenching stuff.
It is also a testament to the great performances that Kristin Scott-Thomas and Anne Marie-Duff have brought to their characters. Scott-Thomas turns in one of her career-best performances in years, bringing a subtlety and complexity to her prim middle-class housewife character trying her best to bring John up as her own son. Marie-Duff on the other hand balances a tightrope of emotions playing the emotionally disturbed Julia and while mesmerising to watch, it is more likely that one will take to Scott-Thomasís more nuanced portrayal.
Next to the excellent Scott-Thomas, Aaron Johnsonís John Lennon seems too tamed and pedestrian to make much of an impression. Were it not for the fact that the audience knows he is going to grow up to be the Beatle, Johnsonís character would simply be just another portrait of a troubled teenager from a broken family trying to find direction in life. But John Lennon is the ultimate reason why we are watching this film (which makes the notable absence of any Beatles tunes- for copyright reasons- and other era-defining tunes starker) and this portraitís failure to differentiate itself from any other such adolescent dramas does it- and also its audience- a disservice.
(Youíd expect a biopic of John Lennonís adolescent years to be a bit more lively and engaging, and despite a poignant finish, this film is too tame to match its subject's bravura)
Review by Gabriel Chong