Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kirsten Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Sangster
Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s accomplished but oddly conventional directorial debut NOWHERE BOY is a biopic exploring John Lennon’s early home life, a subject that has been attracting curiosity in recent years. Anne-Marie Duff and Kristen Scott Thomas give strong performances as the women fighting over him, whilst Aaron Johnson gives a fine turn as the young Lennon.
We pick up Lennon’s story as a 15 year-old in the Liverpool of 1955, where John is a pawn in a battle between the two women in his life – his real mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas), who has raised him since he was 5 years old. At his Uncle George’s funeral, John’s cousin offers to reintroduce John to his mother, and the pair begin to build a complex but affectionate relationship. Julia is an irreverent free spirit, unconventional, inappropriate, but adored by the young John, and a breath of fresh air compared to his repressed Aunt Mimi. He begins to channel the trauma of his unusual family situation into a passion for his newly discovered world of rock ‘n’ roll, a forum in which he meets a young Paul McCartney and George Harrison. But just as he begins to get his first gigs, tragedy strikes at the heart of his world.
Johnson is outstanding as the young Lennon, capturing both the emotional confusion and the arrogance. Matt Greenhalgh’s (CONTROL) script takes a while to warm up to the emotional climax, making what goes before seem like a bit of a long preamble. Whilst Taylor-Wood does a solid and capable job in her debut feature, the film might have benefited from more evidence of her visual identity, a flourish or spark of something unique to set this film alight, and it seems surprising that this never came given her own artistic pedigree and that of her subject.
The film wrings the heartstrings in the right places, and the complexity of the developing relationship between Lennon and McCartney is beautifully shown but, despite the performances, this film never quite manages to rise above the ordinary.