Everybody has mommy-issues. Even iconic musicians.
Before he was shot and killed in 1980, John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) was a young, rebellious teenager like you or I, but he had one big problem: He had no idea who his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) was. From what he knew, she was a woman who had him with a marriage that fell-through, the father left her, and backed the mother so far into a corner, that she had to get rid of little John, and give him away to his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Mimi has been taken care of John for the longest time, ever since he was 5 to be exact, however, after a recent tragedy hits them both, John realizes that his mother is not only still alive, but lives right by his home. John, obviously out of a state of curiosity, decides to visit her and hang out with her, listening to rock n roll music, smoking cigarettes, getting to know his step-sisters, learn how to play the guitar, and skip school. This does not sit well with Mimi, but has John gone on too far to where he doesn’t know who’s right for him, or what for that matter?
Most frown upon this fact that I hold very near and dear to my heart: I am not a huge fan of the Beatles. Don’t have me mistaken, I do appreciate all that they have done for the art of music and consider one of them the biggest influences of all-time, but can I really call myself “a lover” that needs to hear at least one song from each and every album at least once or twice a day? No, not at all. However, I understand their influence to many other bands/musicians out there, which is enough for me to give them the duty and respect they so rightfully deserve.
All that said, I didn’t really find myself caring to see this biopic too much. One reason had to do with the fact that it was about John Lennon and John Lennon only, but also about a part of his life that wasn’t about the Beatles or making music all that much. Instead, it was more about the parental-issues he had growing up as an adolescent in the 50’s, which didn’t really pique my interest as much as it may have done for Beatles fans.
However, I am a fan of film, especially when they’re done as well as this one, which is why I’m not all that surprised I liked what I saw, despite the subject-material.
On paper, it’s nothing new or out-of-the-ordinary that you haven’t seen done a hundred times before: Boy goes through angst, finds his real mother, gives his adoptive mother a hard time, begins to act out, do/say stupid things, and eventually come have it all come together in a way that’s pleasant and used more as a learning-piece for the rest of his life. However, this tale has the gimmick of being about a younger John Lennon who, not only was more rebellious and snobby than some might have expected the lovable, hippie/peace-maker he would later be in life to actually start off as, but was also just like you or me, except probably had more problems going for himself. Which, as said as it to say, does work in the film’s advantage because it shows what a sad kid he grew-up as, but yet, found solace in such pleasurable activities like playing guitar, listening to music, dancing, swearing, smoking, and having a shag every once and a lucky night. See? Whoever thought that Mr. Lennon himself could be such a little d-bag when he was younger, but also a kid who was getting the grasp of the world, right before he had that said world in the palm of his hands.
Then again though, this flick is more about John’s life before the Beatles broke big, and the low-key approach works. Director Sam Taylor-Wood doesn’t offer anything new or fresh to bring to the familiar-tale of biopics, but that’s fine enough since she doesn’t get in the way of the material, it’s heart, or it’s performers. You can tell that she cares enough for John’s story that she doesn’t allow for it to fall down the conventional path of being too melodramatic, or too subtle. She gets the job done right there in the middle, and it works by not only showing and getting us ready for what was going to shape the rest of John’s life, but why it mattered. The man had a brain in his head, and used it to bring pleasure and happiness to many others out there in the entire globe. That’s the beautiful thing about music, and it only helped that John had a voice and a mind that was worth taking a peek at here and there.
Remember how I said I wasn’t a fanboy? Well, I’m still not. But I like John Lennon. Is there any problem with that?
In fact, some of the worst parts of this movie come from when they give little mentions and nods to the future that was going to consist of what some say, “The Greatest Band of All-time”. Despite not being a full-on lover of the Beatles, I could still touch on some references (because I do love music, as well as movies), and more or less, they seemed cheeky and coy, rather than meaningful to the story or the plot. There’s a lot of discussions about getting “a band” together and there’s some music-playing, but nothing to where this feels like it’s really exploring the music or the material that went into it, and more of just the person who wrote it most of the time. It’s fine to do that with a biopic about any person, it’s just that Taylor-Wood was so obvious with her musical-segues, that it seemed like she seemed obligated to have some music in there so not everybody will be pissed that they didn’t hear “Hey Jude”, despite it being released in ’68, way after this movie ends.
Where the film does pick up and keep you interested is in the real life characters themselves, and the actors playing them. Aaron Johnson (who is now Taylor-Johnson apparently, shacking up with the director) does not look a lick at all like John Lennon, younger or older, but he makes up for that in the way that he’s so good at playing a young dick that it’s easy to forget obvious problems here and there. First of all, most of the performance consists of him looking mad, sad, or on the verge of breaking every valuable-item in whatever room he’s on, and secondly, his accent does drop in and out. However, the kid is good in this role and feels like a young dude, just trying to get ahold of whatever the hell is bringing him down so much in this world, while also being able to express himself in a way that the rest of the world can feel the same pain he went through as well. In that regard, Johnson is great and does well, even if the material doesn’t really ask him to go above and beyond the standard of what we think we know of John Lennon, especially when he was just a young prick.
The one’s who really get to stretch out their acting-muscles are Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff, who both play different versions of mommy to John’s little, pained-child. Thomas is great in this role as Mimi considering she always seems like she has a stick up her ass and never wants it to leave. However, you can tell that she cares for John, wants nothing but the best for him, and loves him endlessly, even if she has a hard time of showing it in the type of way he wants. Then again though, I think anytime you put Thomas in a movie, doesn’t matter which one it is, she’s going to give you some great work, so it should come as to no surprise here. The one who really shocked the hell out of me here was Duff, who gives Julia a longing-sense of frustration and regret as well, but likes to hide behind the facade of hers where she’s still young, wild, and crazy, as if she were a teenager once again. There’s some odd scenes between her and Lennon, where it feels like she’s a little too close for comfort, but together, they hold their ground and keep this mother-son relationship understandable and emotional, despite getting a tad creepy at times.
Consensus: Many who love the hell out of the Beatles and want to hear more of their music, will be very disappointed with Nowhere Boy, as it’s more of a biopic on the younger-life of John as he struggled, came to terms, and tried to understand the world he lived in, no matter how much pain and heartbreak it was full of, and it’s mostly all engaging.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!
Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au