Nowhere Boy

9 Nov

Title: Nowhere Boy
Year: 2010
Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Writer: Matt Greenhalgh, based on the memoir by Julia Baird
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff
MPAA Rating: R, language and a scene of sexuality
Runtime: 98 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%


This is not the definitive Beatles movie because it’s not about The Beatles, it’s about John Lennon, and at the early life of John Lennon at that. But, while this one may be shy of huge grandiose musical numbers, it is still a very intriguing film that, to me at least, was a tremendous success. A tremendous success because it was very skillfully directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, and because Aaron Johnson, her young fiancée, was unbelievable in the lead role, showing us he’s a talent to be reckoned with in years to come. Plus, Kristin Scott-Thomas is also in this one too, and she gives another one of her amazing performances.

I liked getting this side of Lennon’s story, I knew a bit of it from stuff I had read, but this is a more extensive outlook, and seeing how it’s based on the memoir of Julia Baird, Lennon’s half-sister, we could say this is reliable information we’re getting. And it really is great to take a peek into John Lennon’s childhood and teenage years, especially because Ms. Taylor-Wood’s direction is very intimate, very subdued, and it paves the way for Mr. Johnson to excel in the title role. Aaron Johnson we all know as the lead in this year’s Kick-Ass, and here he is giving, obviously, a very different sort of performance.

The way Mr. Johnson plays the young Lennon is pretty cool, he portrays him as this sort of confident, even arrogant at times, young man, but at his core remarkably vulnerable. Now, if you know a bit of Lennon’s history you know his mother, Julia (after which the song was written about), was young when she had him, and deemed herself unfit of raising a child, and so she gave him to her older sister, Mimi. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Mimi, and she plays her unbelievably well. Mimi’s a bit cold, but she loves John, and she raises him with that love that he takes for granted, and it Ms. Scott Thomas owns the role completely, its her performance alongside Mr. Johnson’s that elevate this film.

Because this film really is great, it tells the story of world icon, at a time before he was such a world icon. Sure, there’s Paul McCartney present in the story, and there is music present in the story, but it’s much more about John Lennon’s relationship with Julia. He doesn’t know who his mother is until later on in our tale, and he finds out that she lived real close to him, and, when he sees her at his uncle’s funeral, he just knows it’s her. And their relationship blossoms fast, they don’t know each other but they connect deeply from the get-go. She had him when she was twenty-six, and died by the time John was eighteen. Their relationship was short but it was really significant, you see how it could have shaped the song he wrote about her, you see how different she was from her older sister, not in a bad way, just different, more impulsive, more open to love. Which was of course the basis of the John Lennon we all know and worship.

I went into Nowhere Boy without really knowing what it was about. I mean, I knew it was about John Lennon, but I thought it would be more Beatles-centric, and I must say that I was thankful that it really wasn’t. Yes, there are a bit of musical moments that foreshadow what would come, and as I said Paul McCartney is a character here, and he introduces John to George Harrison, but this was all done in order to show John’s interests and his life more than it was done to tell us what would happen next.

If anything, the most Beatle-related thing we can get out of Nowhere Boy is precisely the thing that makes this a John Lennon film not about The Beatles. And that’s the relationship with his mother, the relationship with his aunt Mimi, and the emotional turmoil that transpired in between. I mean that in the way that, once you look into Lennon’s lyrics knowing all he went through in his formative years you might find something in there, if anything, we wouldn’t have the Julia song without this, and I love that song.

Now, about that song, you hear it once without knowing what it’s about and you might think it’s dedicated more to a lover than to a mother. And there are some undertones of that in John’s relationship with his mother actually, this may be because he didn’t meet her as his mother, he was raised by someone else. This may also be because the love she expressed wasn’t the maternal sort of love John had been used from the more brisk but equally loving Mimi, it was a more intimate sort of love, she introduces him to music, she’s a catalyst in his life. This is not to say that Ms. Taylor-Wood implies any sort of erotic relationship between John and Julia, because she doesn’t, but she didn’t shy away from those moments either, and they worked wonderfully.

I loved Nowhere Boy, I’m a Beatles fan, and John Lennon is my favorite Beatle by a mile, and one of my personal heroes. So it was great to see his childhood story, see what shaped him, see him seeing Elvis on screen and being so obviously moved and inspired. This is a fine film, really neatly directed, and that holds a very good performance by Anne-Marie Duff, who plays Julia, a typically amazing one by Kristin Scott Thomas, and a tremendous one by Aaron Johnson in the leading role, a guy who I will be watching very carefully in his next projects. He has some serious acting chops, and they help to make this one such a terrific film.

Grade: A-


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