Monday, October 11, 2010

Nowhere Boy **½

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Thomas Brodie Sangster
Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, David Morrissey, Sam Bell

Every biopic begins with one question: will people, who have no interest in the famous character, want to see this? In the case of Nowhere Boy, assuming there are people out there who have no idea who John Lennon was, what will draw them to a film about his teenage years?
Why make a movie about someone before they were famous instead of concentrating on the dirt and juiciness that fame brought them?
This film concentrates on Lennon's (Johnson) relationship with two women: his estranged mother Julia (Duff) and his strict Aunt Mimi (Thomas). Most of the film has the rebellious John trying to understand why his mom abandoned him and then succumbing to her charm as he begins to resent Mimi's parenting skills.
We might not come to understand much about Lennon by examining this strange love triangle but we are rewarded with a strong, if sometimes too facile, melodrama in which the actors get to shine.
Johnson is a delight as the wide eyed John. We can assume that he's playing Lennon as a combination of Elvis, James Dean and the actual John Lennon which is why his performance is full of mannerisms that somehow feel authentic (he's a performer building his future image). Even when the film takes him towards typical genre twists, he does his best to keep John completely unaware of who he'll become.
This is what gives the movie its best quality. Out of the things it gets wrong, it gets something quite right and it's the way in which it approaches the biopic and filters it through the use of the domestic drama genre.
Therefore what we see is not a movie specifically about how Lennon became one of the most iconic figures in music history but an intriguing family portrait.
Duff is full of energy as Julia and she gives her character a strange eroticism that sometimes makes her seem incestuous. The way she devours John when she's with him gives us glimpses of guilt and some serious Oedipal issues that the director doesn't commit to exploring thoroughly.
Then there's the astonishing Kristin Scott Thomas who practically owns the film as Aunt Mimi. Those who are extremely familiar with the Lennon back story know that it was Mimi who raised him and became his only parent.
It's a delight to see what Thomas does with the role; she can go from cold and slightly sadistic to incredibly warm with a few gestures and gives Mimi a depth no other actor achieves in the movie.
Nowhere Boy suffers mostly from its episodic nature and the way in which its whole sense of lacking selfawareness makes it feel wandering and aimless from time to time.
Fans of The Beatles and John Lennon will enjoy the inner references (watching John draw a walrus puts a smile on your face instantly) but those with less affection towards the music icons will probably be confused by the film's inconsistencies.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Well considering you essentially steamrolled the last movie I love (paging: Agora) I'm satisfied with this review. Honestly, I have little interest in Lennon, but I like this because the acting is quite good and yes Kristin Scott Thomas really does own the movie, but Aaron Johnson really impresses me...this was the last film I saw of the The Greatest, Kick-Ass trio and he's the strongest here (even though I believe this was shot first).

Jose said...

He's quite good indeed. Haha will you never forget the "Agora" incident?

Burning Reels said...

Don't worry Andrew, I thought Agora had more good things than not!

Yes, Nowhere Boy would probably be fairly forgettable without Duff and Scott Thomas - I'm not sure which performance I prefer, I thought Duff initially but Kristin Scott Thomas' work always tends to linger and creep up on you.