Based on the book Imagine This: Growing Up with My Older Brother John Lennon, Nowhere Boy is the story of John Lennon’s early life as a teenager struggling with his absentee mother Julia and the strict upbringing of his aunt Mimi. During his journey to become a musician, he would eventually meet Paul McCartney and George Harrison as they would form the Beatles. Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood and screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, the film is a look into the young Lennon before he would become famous with the Beatles as Aaron Johnson plays the legendary figure. Also starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, and Thomas Sangster as Paul McCartney. Nowhere Boy is a touching yet fascinating portrait of the young life of pre-fame John Lennon.
Following the death of his uncle George (David Threlfall), John Lennon’s young life continues to be troubled as he lives with his strict though caring aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). During his uncle’s funeral, he sees his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) attending from afar as he’s thinking about seeing her. Though Mimi doesn’t want John to see Julia, John decides to as he forges a relationship with of sorts through their love of rock n’ roll. While Julia does have a family life with two daughters and a husband in Bobby (David Morrissey), John enjoys his time as she teaches him the banjo during his suspension from school. Though John’s visits to Julia would disrupt her family life and cause trouble with Mimi, John reluctantly returns home to his aunt.
After deciding to form a rock n’ roll group with friends including fellow troublemaker Pete Shotton (Josh Bolt), John gets a guitar as his skiffle group the Quarrymen attracts the attention of a young musician named Paul McCartney. John lets Paul be part of the group as Paul teaches John how to play more chords while later introducing him to another guitarist named George Harrison (Sam Bell). Despite the success John is making with the Quarrymen and his 18th birthday approaching, John remains haunted by memories of his life as a child as he confronts his mother why she abandoned him where aunt Mimi reveals what happened. After feeling hurt by everything and the chaos of the whole family, things finally cool down as John, Julia, and Mimi finally come to an understanding only to be shattered by tragedy. For John, the event would help shape his outlook on life as he, Paul, and George would form the Beatles as John would tell the news to his family.
While the story of John Lennon’s life is something that a lot of fans of both Lennon and the Beatles know quite well through various books, stories, and films that are either documentary or dramatic feature. What makes this film a bit different is about the relationship between the young Lennon and the two women in his life that would influence the young boy. While aunt Mimi might seem like a strict woman who keeps telling John to put on his glasses and stay out of trouble. She just doesn’t want him to get hurt and deal with all of the turmoil she went through when she chose to raise him. Then there’s Julia, John’s mother who has just come back into his life once again where the two make another attempt to start a relationship though she has a family of her own while also being quite reckless at times.
These two women represent the different ideas that Lennon would be influenced by in his life as he finds an outlet through music where he would meet a young man that would help him evolve musically in Paul McCartney. Matt Greenhalgh’s script does dwell into how these relationship with these individuals would play a part into Lennon’s development as a young man. Still, it’s all about John Lennon in the way he grew up as he was this troublemaking kid that likes to cause trouble and spit at authority. Yet, there’s a complexity into Lennon as Greenhalgh’s script goes into his early life as someone who is creative in art but is in need of a direction to get it out there. While the script is really more of a dramatic interpretation of the young Lennon’s life, it does succeed in giving an idea of what it was like for this young man to come of age.
Sam Taylor-Wood’s direction is truly marvelous to watch in the way she presents the film. Featuring a lot of intimate moments of framing to stylized shots where Lennon is slowly learning to play the banjo in a room while a lot of activity by other characters is happening rapidly. Taylor-Wood manages to create an atmosphere and a period that seems very innocent and lively with a look that is lush and ravishing. While she keeps a lot of the conversations and musical moments to be very straightforward and lively, Taylor-Wood does manage to keep things engaging such as the big dramatic scene of Lennon learning about why his mother abandoned him and the whereabouts of his own father. The overall work Taylor-Wood does is superb as she creates a wonderfully heartbreaking yet enchanting story of Lennon’s early life as a teenager.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does a magnificent job with the film‘s colorful yet stylish photography from the very straight yet lush look for many of the exteriors shot on location in parts of Blackpool, London, and other British locations. McGarvey’s work also has a very dream-like look that plays to some of the very stylized shots such as the interiors of Julia’s home and some performance scenes. Editor Lisa Gunning does an excellent job with the editing by adding a stylistic flair to some of the cutting with a few jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.
Production designer Alice Normington, along with set decorator Barbara Herman-Skelding and art director Charmian Adams, does a sensational job with the homes created to capture a late 1950s look with objects and things including a few paintings that were actually made by John Lennon to surround his room. Costume designer Julian Day does a superb job with the costumes created from the schoolboy uniform that Lennon wears to the youthful yet stylish dresses that his mother wears. Sound editor Simon Chase does a terrific job with the sound work to capture the intimacy of the home of aunt Mimi to the raucous energy of the shows he plays.
The score by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, of the electronic duo Goldfrapp, do a nice job with the score which is a mostly low-key orchestral score and piano to play up some of the drama that goes in the film. Music supervisor Ian Neil does a fantastic job with the soundtrack by utilizing some of the early rock n’ roll music of the times from cuts like Elvis Presley and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins while having the actors actually play the songs of the time which is a real highlight of the soundtrack. Particularly as it uses an outtake of John Lennon’s Mother for the film’s ending.
The casting by Nina Gold is great for the cast that is created that includes appearances from David Threlfall as John’s playful uncle George, David Morrissey as Julia’s kind lover Bobby, Josh Bolt as John’s troublemaking friend Pete Shotton, and Sam Bell as a young George Harrison. Thomas Sangster is excellent as the young Paul McCartney who would help shape John as a musician while becoming his dear close friend and partner following the tragedy John faced. Anne-Marie Duff is wonderful as John’s troubled mother Julia who gives John freedom from his aunt Mimi while dealing with her own guilt that she hadn’t been there enough for him.
Kristin Scott Thomas is superb as John’s aunt Mimi who tries to get him to do what is right while dealing with what she had to do for John’s well-being as Thomas brings a compelling sympathy to a very stern character. Finally, there’s Aaron Johnson in a phenomenal performance as the young John Lennon. Johnson brings a real sense of swagger and charisma to the character that is true to Lennon’s personality while showing the anguish his character goes through in dealing with loss and abandonment. Johnson also shows that he can sing as the overall work he does is truly amazing for the young actor.
Nowhere Boy is a rich yet captivating film from Sam Taylor-Wood on the young life of John Lennon. Featuring an outstanding performance from Aaron Johnson as the legendary musician along with brilliant supporting performances from Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff, and Thomas Sangster. The film gives the idea an idea of what Lennon’s young life was like as well as show how the two women in his life as a teenager would impact him. In the end, Nowhere Boy is a mesmerizing film from Sam Taylor-Wood.
© thevoid99 2011