A sunny, romanticized take on how The Beatles came to be.
In the years following the murder of John Lennon his all too famous widow Yoko One has worked overtime to ensure that her husband’s legacy is kept secure and squeaky clean. We’ll probably never know her true intentions behind all of the micromanaging nor do we know if it was at all necessary. Yes, Lennon had his detractors but it’s tough to try and name another artist or political leader who is more revered worldwide. And now, 30 years after his death, I’m starting to crave the unsavory bits of his story. Give me something that will help prove his humanity to me. Sadly nothing of the sort is found in Nowhere Boy, a sugar coated retelling of his childhood, released to coincide with his 70th birthday, that focuses on the early days of The Beatles and the tumultuous relationships he had with his two mothers.
On one side he had his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), the woman who had raised him for as long as he could remember. She was of the chilly, stiff upper lip variety who would speak about responsibility and the need to stifle emotions even in times of great trauma. Then there was Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), Mimi’s sister and John’s birth mother, a hedonistic flirt who saunters back into life during his adolescence. The characters in this twisted triangle are all broadly drawn and yet the performances are all top notch. Aaron Johnson, as Lennon, is coming off of Kick Ass and looks like an overly polished, hulking version of the musical icon and the always reliable Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent here at sucking all of the emotion out of a role the requires its absence. But best in show goes to Duff who creates a hauntingly real Julia, somebody who can laugh and smile but never quite hide all of the pain that she has bottled up inside of her. Despite appearances this woman is broken and we know it.
After temporarily leaving Mimi for the freedoms associated with Julia Lennon is forced back home when Julia’s current wet blanket husband encourages her to give him the boot. To deal with this abandonment he puts together a musical group, The Quarrymen, that will slowly evolve into The Beatles. We watch as John and Paul embark on their working relationship though the film gives no insight into how that mismatched couple ever made it work at all. Musical hits are a big part of the score as we are treated to Elvis Pressley and Buddy Holly but almost nothing that belongs to Lennon. The first sound we hear as the movie begins is the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night but that is all we get, one chord, Across the Universe this is not. The title comes from a smart ass exchange Lennon has with his school principal early on.
The authority figure is lambasting him for being a hooligan and informs him that soon he’ll be working on the docks because there is nowhere else for people like him. Lennon responds with “There’s nowhere for the geniuses, sir.” which is a nice piece of red meat to feed the self proclaimed geniuses in the audience but kind of disingenuous at the same time because if history taught us anything it is that society at large found all sorts of room for this particular genius.
The events we see play out in Nowhere Boy involving the creation of The Beatles is one version of reality. Another one was recently put forth by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers in which he states that their rise to the top was facilitated by extreme talent mixed with an insane amount of working hours wherein they perfected their craft. Director Sam Taylor-Wood would rather not dabble in the dryness and instead shrugs off his success as inherent genius along with some mommy issues to provide inspiration. Then she spends the rest of the time on more cinematic events in his life such as him finger banging some girl in the woods and hitching rides on the top of buses. That is all well and good, we go to movies for escapism not cold hard facts, but even with all of that fluff the film never demands your attention. Why spend your life on this when you could be watching a quality documentary about his life (The People vs. John Lennon) or just listening to his music.
Director: Sam Taylor-Wood Notable Cast: Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, Thomas Brodie Sangster Writer: Matt Greenhalgh (based on the novel “Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon” by Julia Baird)