Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Early on in Nowhere Boy, John Lennon (Aaron Johnson), heavily influenced by The King of Rock N’ Roll, wistfully asks his biological mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), “Why couldn’t God have made me Elvis Presley?” His mother simply replies, “That’s because he was saving you for John Lennon.”
Lennon’s own legend is enduringly etched within rock folklore by now - but the story of his turbulent adolescence has rarely been recounted. In that sense, Sam Taylor Wood and Control scribe Matt Greenhalgh have done a delightful job of bringing Lennon’s formative years in Scouser suburbia to the forefront.
Nowhere Boy is indeed about the youth before the myth so there are aspects of it dedicated to his burgeoning musical genius. Here he learns to play his first instruments, forms a skiffle group called The Quarrymen and befriends Paul McCartney and George Harrison. These elements, while axiomatic to any story of Lennon, take a backseat to the strife of his domestic life.
At its essence, this film is a familial drama with Lennon torn in two by the tug-of-war for his affections between his mother Julia and stern adoptive guardian Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Nobody can pull off the role of Antarctic matriarch better than Kristin Scott Thomas can but she also expertly underplays her tenderness for young John beneath her glacial demeanour.
You can visibly see Mimi’s heart shatter every time Lennon outwardly rebels against her strict upbringing and goes running to his mother. While Julia is indubitably a free-spirit and more fun to be around, she is clearly an irresponsible parent, and one who also abandoned Lennon years ago. She was however also the one who introduced John to the rock n’ roll explosion and teaches him how to play the banjo so the world does owe her a debt of gratitude.
Anne-Marie Duff is simultaneously vibrant and broken as John’s mother - she’s far too young and carefree but she bears much guilt with regards to her inadequacies as a parent. Due to Julia’s age and distance from John growing up, there’s an undercurrent of sexual tension between them that is uncomfortable to witness but is done deliberately to illustrate how emblematic their dysfunction is.
It is a bit surprising to see a young fractious Lennon as defiant and disaffected as he is depicted here. One can easily imagine that if Lennon grew up in the 70s, he would have been a punk not far removed from someone like Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis (as seen in aforementioned Control). Kick-Ass’ Aaron Johnson evokes Lennon’s restless adolescence with a rawness that is at times both brash and brittle.
Watching John passing by Strawberry Fields children’s home or drawing a walrus provide fun little nods but the key to judging Nowhere Boy is this – if the protagonist wasn’t John Lennon, would we still care about the family drama? The answer is a resounding yes; it scintillates.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.