NOWHERE BOY is a beautifully written, beautifully acted, sensitively directed biopic of the young John Lennon, directed by the reknowned British artist, Sam Taylor-Wood. Set in a perfectly rendered 1950s Liverpool, the film shows a 17 year old Lennon groping toward the truth of why he lives with his Aunt Mimi rather than with his mum and dad, not to mention taking his first steps toward becoming a Beatle.
Aaron Johnson (THE THIEF LORD; ANGUS, THONGS AND PERFECT SNOGGING) is assured as the young Lennon, complete with rock-n-roll quiff and iconic Scouse accent. He pulls off both the cockey laddishness and the vulnerability. His John is witty and playful; promiscuous and arrogant; occasionally violently angry; but also desperately adrift. Kristin Scott-Thomas also gives a nuanced performance as John's Aunt Mimi - both stiff and severe in her middle-class home, but also undoubtedly very loving toward John and possessing a wicked sense of humour. (And to those reviewers criticising Scott Thomas for being too posh, Mimi really didn't have a broad Scouse accent. Indeed, Lennon later commented that he had to broaden his Scouse accent for PR purposes.)
The character that jumps off the screen is John's mum, and Mimi's younger sister, Julia. Anne-Marie Duff's Julia is so full of energy and fun that she simply sweeps you up in her love of life and rock'n'roll music. But like John you can't help but feel something is forced in such buoyancy and we're right to distrust it. Despite being remarried with two small children, Julia obviously suffers from depression and can only truly relate to men through flirtation. This extends to John and his band members, and the delicate way in which Sam Taylor-Wood and her script-writer deal with this is both honest and elegant.
The resulting film is a moving emotional drama that is interesting on its own terms, let alone because it formed an iconic musician.
NOWHERE BOY is a very good film. It reminded me a lot of Tom Ford's feature debut A SINGLE MAN, in that it was both apparently conventional in its structure and visual style but also wonderfully brave in tackling uncomfortable subjects head on, without judgement and without cliché. The conventional style is even more surprising from Taylor-Wood given the nature of her graphic art, and her bizarre short film.
NOWHERE BOY closed London 2009 and is currently on release in the UK and Australia. It will play Sundance 2010. It opens in New Zealand on March 4th; in the Netherlands on April 1st; in Russia on April 15th and in Norway on September 10th.