Thankfully, this film does not follow the bio-pic formula of such films as Ray or Walk the Line, but magnifies a certain aspect of John Lennon’s earlier years: the struggle between his Aunt Mimi and his mother, Julia, over who would raise him. The teenage John Lennon is pulled in opposite ways, absorbing the agony and finds an escape through music. We get to see how his rebellious ways against maturity and his yearning to be part of a stable family helped shape him to be a musical inspiration.
The mechanics of the film, led by Director Sam Taylor-Wood, is clean and solid. At best, the editing elevates the film; for example, John learning to play the banjo has John in normal time with the background sped up. Also, the editing sometimes invites certain questions about John. For example, there is a suggestive transition starting with a scene of John and Julia, moving on to a sexual scene with John and his girlfriend, using “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Aaron Johnson is physically imposing, and better looking than the real teenage John Lennon, but he hits the right notes in his performance. He captures Lennon’s unique humor and inherits his mannerisms rather well, blending in his own captivating charisma and showcasing his emotional range. Simply put, the kid can act. Hell, the kid even has legitimate pipes. Kristin Scott Thomas perfects the strict, straight-laced Aunt Mimi, but also escapes any stereotypes by quietly showing her genuine love for John Lennon. Anne-Marie Duff delivers a solid performance as John’s mother, Julia, and easily shows that she is the complete opposite of her sister.
Audiences get to witness the hard days that become the fuel for the blaze to come. Overall, the film is more of an emotionally engaging, honest story of a teenage boy that desperately wants to belong somewhere, and that teenage boy just happens to be John Lennon. However, this approach breaks down the legend to something the audience can connect to at deeper levels, making for a more absorbing viewing experience. There are moments where it will be hard to resist a smile, especially for Beatles fans, like the first performance of the Quarrymen, the first meeting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the recording of “In Spite of All the Danger.” Although it has its share of inaccuracies, Nowhere Boy is a very effective film that allows us entrance into the early, troubled and captivating life of John Lennon.
Some may find the historical inaccuracies a bit distracting, and so taking in the film as a loose dramatization of Lennon’s early years rather than a bio-pic might help. Some also say that Johnson doesn’t look the part, but few will argue that he can act it. Also, for those expecting insight into the musical writing process of Lennon, there is none to be found in this film.
I’m Not There
Across the Universe
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