Mark Reviews Movies

NOWHERE BOY

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood

Cast: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Brodie Sangster, David Morrisey, Ophelia Lovibond

MPAA Rating: R (for language and a scene of sexuality)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 10/8/10 (limited); 10/15/10 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 14, 2010

That unmistakable opening assembled chord of "A Hard Day's Night" begins Nowhere Boy, and then we see a teenaged John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) running—not from anyone or to anything in particular. His schoolmaster tells the boy he's going nowhere, to which that famous Lennon wit responds, "Is nowhere for the geniuses? 'Cause I probably do belong there."

It's Lennon's story no doubt, sprinkled with bits and bobs of impending lore—the opening strum, a walk past Strawberry Field, those thin-rimmed circle eyeglasses. This is not a film, though, dependent on a string of knowing visual and spoken allusions to the project that made Lennon, two of his schoolboy-days bandmates, and a guy named Ringo household names (The band's name is never mentioned—doesn't need to be—only jokingly referred to at the end as that band that sounds like all the rest). Matt Greenhalgh's script (based on the memoir by Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird) quickly disassociates itself from such gimmickry and instead plunges straight into the youth's murky and troubled family life.

Raised by his strict aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) since childhood, John spots his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) at the funeral of his uncle George (David Threlfall). He has not seen her since he was a young boy, and memory of her pounding at the front door of Mimi's house calling for her son enters his dreams from time to time.

As it turns out, Julia lives nearby—just a short walk. He goes to visit her one day unannounced and discovers she wants to be in his life. They spend the day at the dock, and despite the misgivings of her current husband Bobby (David Morrissey), John begins to come by more often. Julia, a music aficionado, teaches John to play the banjo, introduces him to rock 'n' roll (like Elvis, after whom John—and the rest of the boys of Liverpool—takes to styling his hair), and encourages his own musical ambition.

That's the happy ending, but of course, it's not the right one. The relationship between John and Julia is not typical. How could it ever be? Here is a young man who seeks out the mother who, by all accounts he's ever known, left him as a boy. He does it because his aunt doesn't understand him. How could she ever? She's not his mother, and watching her with her husband and how she treats him, John doesn't believe she even wants to be anything like that.

So he searches for Julia. Yes, she acquaints music to him, but he takes so strongly to it because it's her passion. It is his, as well—there is no denying that—but he needs to prove himself worthy to her. The rest of their time together is a back-and-forth, as they grow incredibly close quickly and separate suddenly. Julia is, despite her desire to be a mother to her almost adult son, a mother to younger children of her own now. Bobby knows she cannot be split so; it's what caused her to run away from John all those years ago.

The Quarrymen, John's first band that eventually transitioned into the one that would make him famous, starts almost out of spite. Abandoned yet again, he pulls together some school chums to form a skiffle band (They don't need to know how to play, John encourages them; it's just three chords on the guitar, a banjo, a washtub bass, a washboard, and drums). Julia shows up to their performances, watching her son with wide-eyed awe, and John switches his own admiration on and off depending on his mood. A young guitarist named Paul (Thomas Brodie Sangster), whose own mother died the year prior, joins, teaches John the proper way to play a guitar (not tuning it like a banjo), and persuades another young guitar player George (Sam Bell) into the band.

Director Sam Taylor-Wood explores people living in and through music. John sits practicing guitar and pauses to note the calluses that have developed on his fingertips. He spends days at Julia's house while suspended from school for some nonsense involving a porno magazine ("Can I have it back," he asks the headmaster) practicing the banjo while his half-sisters go about their own lives. When Mimi sells her nephew's guitar to prove she's in charge, he merely goes behind her back to Julia, who gives him the money to buy it back. After tragedy strikes, John's recovery is in the studio, recording "In Spite of All the Danger" and finding a release for his pain as it all rushes into his mind.

They must survive in the music for the other option is to stop and live in reality. It has not worked for John all these years as a boy with no roots. Nowhere Boy is about a young man who finds them and embraces them—a young man who just happens to be John Lennon.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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