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Anne-Marie Duff, left, & Kristin Scott Thomas in NOWHERE BOY (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

NOWHERE BOY
Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood
Produced by
Douglas Rae, Robert Bernstein & Kevin Loader
Written by Matt Greenhalgh, based on the memoir Image This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon by Julia Baird
Released by the Weinstein Company
UK. 97 min. Rated R
With
Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff , David Threlfall, David Morrissey & Thomas Brodie Sangster
 

Nowhere Boy isnít just for nostalgic music fans curious to see the story of John Lennonís youth before he was a Beatle. Three riveting performances anchor this engrossing biopic even before the teenager is seen writing his first song with Paul McCartney.

A rambunctious schoolboy in 1950ís Liverpool, John (the charismatic Aaron Johnson) is just starting to absorb American cultural influences of rock Ďní roll and movies in his strut and tastes. Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her accommodating husband George (David Threlfall) control his middle-class home, a fortress against these changes in post-war England. For all their rules and rigidity, they are the only parents he has ever known, and can be affectionately wheedled into allowing him to have a guitar.

When Georgeís sudden death sends John reeling, his restless feelings of not fitting well with the very proper Mimi explode when a cousin reluctantly lets him in on a family secretóMimi is really his aunt. Her sister is his biological mother, the unstable Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who all along has been living nearby with her second husband, Bobby (David Morrissey), and their young daughters. (With John actively imitating James Deanís look, his bio blends with James Deanís character discovering the truth about his mother in Elia Kazanís East of Eden.)

The maternal love triangle is as fascinating as it is heartrending. There is some suspense as more and more of Juliaís back story comes out, about her relationship with Johnís father, and her bouts with depression (which, ironically, sounds a lot more like the opening plot of the Whoís Tommy than a Beatlesí song). But Mimi wields the truth as a jealous club when she sees John gravitate to the warm woman who delights in the new pop music (with a terrific selection in the soundtrack) and enthusiastically encourages his unconventional dreams.

Kristin Scott Thomas sympathetically achieves a difficult balance in not making Mimi the enemy, emphasizing how she protectively gave John a stable foundation for his artistic endeavors and credibly achieved a rapprochement with her sisteróLennon was lovingly close to Mimi for the rest of his life. But Anne-Marie Duff is the revelation here, beyond her previous movie roles, most recently in Michael HoffmanĎs The Last Station. She came to general notice in Paul Abbottís Shameless (2004) on TV, where she met her husband James McAvoy. His career has seemed to have skyrocketed, but this performance should raise her to his tier of attention. Her Julia is a fragile flower blossoming in the intense sunshine of her talented long-lost son as she tries to reclaim a carefree youth through him, all the while struggling to fulfill adult responsibilities for her resentful husband and sister.

The intensity of how the young Paul McCartney (a cherubic Thomas Brodie Sangster) helped John through this adolescent pain is revealing. Co-scriptwriter Matt Greenhalgh previously showed sensitivity in depicting the roots of a complicated rock legend in Control about Joy Divisionís Ian Curtis. His director, Sam Taylor-Wood, makes an accomplished debut feature. Renowned as a photographer, she similarly drew out the vulnerability behind masculine icons in her Crying Man portraits of male movie stars.

The filmís release in the U.S. is timed for Lennonís 70th birthday. The biographical facts provide intriguing insight into his songs (especially ďMother,Ē heard at the end) and useful background for other films, such as Michael Epsteinís illuminating documentary LennonNYC on his last years, upcoming on PBSís American Masters after its debut at the New York Film Festival. But the powerful acting creates more, a moving story of a creative young man on the move and the emotional influence of the mothers behind him. Nora Lee Mandel
October 10, 2010

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