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  Nowhere Boy Caught Between Two Mothers
Year: 2009
Director: Sam Taylor-Wood
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Anne-Marie Duff, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Morrissey, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Threlfall, Josh Bolt, Sam Bell, Andrew Buchan, Frazer Bird, James Jack Bentham, Jack McElhone, Daniel Ross, Ophelia Lovibond, Chris Coghill
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in the late fifties when John Lennon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) was sixteen years old, he lived with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall) in Liverpool and was something of a tearaway, always getting into trouble with the headmaster of his school who told him in no uncertain terms that he was headed nowhere. And in truth, John was more interested in finding ways to skip classes than making plans for the future, part of which was his lack of direction offered by his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who he was estranged from...

For the purposes of this film he was at any rate, though as with many a biographical work adapted for the screen there were a few liberties taken to bolster the drama and themes. This had been based on Lennon's half-sister's book about growing up with him, and to all intents and purposes was received very well by those who saw it, most of them fans of The Beatles and keen to catch every item of memorabilia, such as Nowhere Boy was. It was the feature debut of artist Sam-Taylor Wood, who had made a few shorts before, but here proved she could extend her range into the big screen with confidence.

However, as with Backbeat, the Iain Softley version of the pre-fame Beatles, there was a problem in that it was all very well to show the boys as they were before megastardom beckoned, but it did mean all the absorbing stuff that happened to them when they were at the height of their success was understandably missing from the story, leaving the "hurry up and get famous" aspect unfulfilled. Therefore the sole reason you're intrigued by the tale of this young man and his troubles would be because of what he would do in his future rather than what he was doing in the film, leaving you with a 21st century variation on a fifties kitchen sink drama.

Another issue was that while it was well-acted, you rarely got the impression of watching the actual people being portrayed, not the fault of the movie, more the fault of the images and sounds of Lennon and McCartney (here played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster) being so indelibly stamped on the public consciousness for so many decades. So here we have the first meeting, and you can practically feel the straining not to make this seem as momentous as it would turn out to be, with the renowned Lennon wit in full flow to undercut the situation, though here he never says much that is truly funny, coming across as more bitter than genuinely amusing.

But little wonder when his mother treats him like her boyfriend rather than her son, not that they get up to any funny business but Duff essays the role with uncomfortable levels of affection towards John. The old Philip Larkin maxim about what your mum and dad do to you was much in evidence, as Lennon is shown to be a crazy mixed up kid, though he exhibited much of those feelings of conflict about his mother well into his solo work. Here, the appeal to Taylor-Wood looked to be the old "tough boys crying" approach that some creative women lean towards, leaving the story of the young John Lennon more like the early years of the Beatle as scripted by S.E. Hinton. He was a complex man, and this film goes some way to explaining why, yet remains on the struggling with histrionics side of melodrama, nothing wrong with that if you're feeling indulgent, but it tells you little about the most important thing for the aficionados: the music. Goldfrapp provided the soundtrack for this, when the rock 'n' roll isn't playing (no skiffle?).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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