A Terrific Portrait Of The Young John Lennon
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
With Nowhere Boy, conceptual artist and photographer Sam Taylor-Wood takes audiences back to the early nowhere days of John Lennon (Aaron Johnson), as he chafes under the seemingly loveless rule of his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who wants to see that the boy is well mannered, educated, and on his way to being a productive member of society. Mimi’s husband George (David Threlfall) senses the playful free spirit inside the boy rebelling against his wife’s iron-fist and seeks to provide him with a safe outlet, helping the young John set up a remote speakerbox in his room so that he can listen to the popular music of the day. After George’s passing, John embarks on a journey to find his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who it turns out, has been just around the corner struggling to remain sane as she cares for her new family.
The epic divide between Mimi’s old-school regimentation and Julia’s flirty embrace of life’s sensual beauty threatens to send John over the edge. It is obvious that he sees and appreciates the love that both women have for him and how very necessary both views of the world will likely be as he rushes headlong into the world he is destined to change. This mythic dynamic, the Oedipal pull of mothers and mother-figures, the attraction and the repulsion, and his sudden attacks against males (especially the young Paul McCartney played here by the baby-faced Thomas Brodie Sangster) who dare to challenge him by inserting themselves into the mix, is a classic Freudian study writ large that extends to the creative team behind the production.
The young Julia resides in the margins of these frames although Taylor-Wood focuses on Lennon’s tumultuous relationship with his mother Julia. Lennon is seen as an intruder in Julia’s new family, at odds with her husband Bobby Dykins (David Morrissey) who realizes that the more time she spends with her son, nurturing his developing passion for music, the closer she comes to falling over the edge where she will be no good to the family. As he learns the truth about why he’s been forced to live with Mimi, away from Julia, Taylor-Wood and Thomas, as Aunt Mimi, firmly establish the private moments and traumatic experiences that will dominate the future of popular music.
It is quite a feat too, considering that the far easier route would have been to litter the screen with cute (and utterly obvious) markers from the songbook of Lennon & McCartney or turn the story into a show-stopping musical tribute (think Across the Universe). There was no need to drive down that well-worn path because in Thomas and Johnson (who deftly captures the acerbic wit and passion of Lennon, while also disappearing into a likeness that just feels as right as any three perfectly played chords), Taylor-Wood has collaborative partners willing and able to imagine a nowhere boy on the way to becoming a real nowhere man.
Nowhere Boy will be shown exclusively at the Neon Movies
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at T.T.Stern-Enzi@daytoncitypaper.com