Sunday, October 03, 2010

“Nowhere Boy” – Movie Review

This morning in my movie class, we had our 2nd bonus screening of the Fall Semester with the British biopic, “Nowhere Boy”, the life story of the young John Lennon in his pre-Beatle years.  The movie stars Aaron Johnson, Kristen Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff.


While a troubled John Lennon wrestles with adolescence and a sense of identity, he begins to find himself through music – but when the mother who abandoned him as a child returns to his life, can their relationship be repaired?


In working class Liverpool, England of the 1950’s, John Lennon (Johnson) seems to be constantly marching to the Headmaster’s office, where he’s either punished in some way, scolded or suspended, depending on the infraction du jour.  When his beloved Uncle George unexpectedly passes away, he is left to live with George’s wife, John’s Aunt Mimi (Thomas).  Mimi, a very straight-laced and serious woman, has no patience for young Lennon’s youthful playfulness and the two seem to quarrel incessantly.  Feeling misunderstood, he spends a little too much time with his mischievous schoolmates, for whom Lennon appears to play the role of leader. 

Eventually, he becomes aware that his estranged biological mother Julia (Duff) is in proximity to the neighborhood in which he’s been raised, so he goes off to pay a visit and somewhat satisfy his curiosity.  After years of unsuccessfully trying to regain contact with her son, Julia is nothing short of delighted to see the young man show up at her door.  They wind up spending the day together at the various amusements in Blackpool, bonding and seemingly making up for lost time.  A fan of rock & roll music – and especially Elvis Presley – Julia encourages her son’s musical interests, teaching him how to play the banjo; he eventually teaches himself the guitar and forms a skiffle band with his schoolmates, calling the group The Quarrymen.  Playing at a fair one summer, John is introduced to an even younger Paul McCartney, who proves to be a superior guitarist – and because of this, John eventually invites him to join the group. 

With the band gaining in popularity and success, John faces turmoil at home as Mimi is extremely vocal about her disapproval of his increasingly close relationship with his mother, whom Mimi regards as a bad influence on the boy’s life.  After the three engage in an ugly, emotional confrontation on the night of John’s 17th birthday, the young man finally learns the truth about his mother’s absence and his aunt’s presence during his upbringing – but can the three forgive and forget and succeed in forging a more constructive familial relationship?


In the lecture preceding this morning’s screening, our instructor said that when filmmakers decide to produce a biographical movie, they have to ask themselves three very important questions:  First, Is the subject well-known enough that prospective moviegoers would have sufficient awareness of this person?  Next, Does this person merit a movie about his/her life’s story?  Finally,  What point in this person’s life will the movie depict?  For “Nowhere Boy”, the answers to the first two questions were fairly self-evident.  But the last question didn’t have such a clear-cut answer.  Our instructor said that, at least according to the movie’s production notes, the filmmakers chose the early life of John Lennon because the period of The Beatles Years had been sufficiently done (perhaps overdone). 

While the performances were quite good, it was the story and especially many of the nuances and seemingly minor details of both the performances and the telling of the story that really made the movie such a strong recommendation, as far as I’m concerned.  One of the amazing things that we see in its telling is that Julia had a flirtatious and borderline incestuous relationship with her son once they were reunited – while it never appeared to totally cross the line, it was, however, portrayed as quite inappropriate, causing more than a few awkward moments for the adolescent Lennon. 

The overwhelming majority of the class loved this movie and I did, too.  I highly recommend this film and encourage you to see it when it opens, which coincides with what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday. Would this movie appeal to people who aren’t Beatles fans?  It’s hard to say and I have a difficult time being objective about this, but based on the high quality of this movie, I believe the story is so good that it stands on its own merits.  But will the movie be a success?  Unfortunately, probably not – unless Baby Boomers do the unexpected and turn out in droves to buy tickets.  Since the majority of American movie audiences are of a demographic so young that they are barely aware of The Beatles (never even mind remembering them), it probably won’t draw too much of an audience – but I sincerely hope that I’m wrong here.  “Nowhere Boy” certainly deserves a better fate than that.