Kristin Scott Thomas as Mimi Smith
Aaron Johnson as John Lennon
Thomas Sangster as Paul McCartney
Anne-Marie Duff as Julia Lennon
David Morrissey as Bobby Dykins
Ophelia Lovibond as Marie Kennedy
Sam Bell as George harrison
Jack McElhone as Eric Griffiths
Josh Bolt as Pete Shotton
Christian Bird as Jimmy Tarbuck
James Johnson as Stan Parks
Daniel Ross as Nigel Whalley
Christian Bird as Jimmy Tarbuck
Directed by Sam Taylor Wood
“Nowhere Boy” tells the story of the early life of John Lennon. While it has moments that are entertaining, it struggles to overcome its subject matter, and is ultimately quite a hollow experience.
The film concentrates on a period in Lennon’s mid-teens from around 1955-1958, during which the adolescent Lennon went through a series of events that clearly shaped his later life. Unfortunately, while these events should make for compelling viewing, “Nowhere Boy” manages to turn them into a mundane film that simply plods from one Beatles reference to the next.
In general, the script is passable, but every so often a line crops up that is so clunky it threatens to derail the whole film. This is typified by a line near the end of the film, where Lennon’s aunt asks him to remind her of the name of his new band, a moment that caused the entire audience in the screening to cringe in unison.
Leading man Aaron Johnson’s performance does little to elevate the film. While he is generally competent, he frequently betrays his theatrical roots, overacting in many of his scenes, and turning up the teenage angst to eleven throughout.
Johnson’s relationship with his on-screen mother, Anne-Marie Duff, is also problematic. Partly because of how close they appear in age, the relationship feels far more like two lovers than a mother and a son. This slightly incestuous undercurrent felt inappropriate, and unnecessary, and any merit it did have was lost by it being implied, rather than confronted head on.
While Johnson left something to be desired, the supporting cast were reasonably competent, although Thomas Sangster as Paul McCartney was incredibly jarring. In spite of a good performance, the fact that Sangster doesn’t seem to have aged a day in the six years since “Love Actually” sabotaged any hope he had of pulling off the part.
The one shining light throughout the entire film is Kristin Scott Thomas. In the role of Lennon’s aunt and legal guardian, she creates a character who is emotionally repressed and yet by far the most sympathetic character in the movie. She is so good that at times it felt as if she was in a different film to the rest of the cast. At any length her performance is in a different league to her co-stars.
The picture frequently missed opportunities to shine. About halfway through, there is a montage in which Lennon learns to play the banjo. It is an inventive and enjoying piece of filmmaking that betrays what this film could have been. By contrast about 80 minutes into the movie is a perfect end point, and yet it is allowed to continue on for another fifteen minutes, unsubtly lurching towards the final reference in the game of connect-the-dots that the filmmakers have created.
For all its flaws, “Nowhere Boy” did manage to avoid the two massive traps for any film based on the life of a Beatle, steering clear of the temptation to pepper the dialogue with song lyrics, and avoiding turning the soundtrack into a greatest hits compilation.
The Bottom Line:
Indeed, given how difficult a task shoehorning even a brief period in the life John Lennon into a ninety minute narrative must be, “Nowhere Boy” is a long way from the disaster it could have been. Unfortunately, it is also a long way from the film that it could have been had a little more care and attention gone into the script and the casting process.