Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality, 98 minutes
"Nowhere Boy" is affecting story of John Lennon's youth
Every famous person had to get a start somewhere, and the sublimely engrossing, engaging "Nowhere Boy" tells the story of a teenage John Lennon. Some of its mid-section lags, but the factual film is superbly acted, directed and written, and it tells some interesting stories of Lennon's youth and how he got his start with the music that eventually evolved into the global phenomenon known as The Beatles.
The young John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is being raised by his stern Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall), in spite of the fact that his free-spirited mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) lives close by. Family turmoil caused John to live with and be cared for by Mimi, which provides some challenges when John gets into trouble at school. As John becomes closer to his mother, Julia encourages him to take up music and he eventually learns how to play the guitar. He forms a group of his own, The Quarryman, and he meets a young Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Gangster), and history is born, though John has to deal with Mimi and Julia, who become his strongest influences.
"Nowhere Boy" is a superb, entertaining and often moving mini-biographical tale of the young Lennon, and will be best remembered for a trio of excellent performances from the leads. What's more, the movie, based on a biography from Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird, is remarkably accurate, making minimal changes to the story and less cinematic liberties than most movies in this genre do (think of the recent, enjoyable "Secretariat" which was good but made substantial changes to the facts). The movie is slower and lags in its mid-section, but once the young Lennon gets going with the guitar and his music, it will keep your interest.
Newcomer British actor Aaron Johnson (also seen in this year's "Kick-Ass") gives a poignant but low-key performance as the teenage Lennon, and shades him with the right amount of inflection that doesn't become a cariacture or just an imiation. Even better is the two actresses who play Lennon's aunt and mother, respectively, and show a study of different personality and parenting types. Scott-Thomas ("The English Patient") and British stage actress Duff (who's also married to actor James McAvoy) give Oscar-worthy performances as the two sisters who both love John and show it differently. The trio's shattering extended scene where John discovers the truth about his parents is the film's highlight.
"Nowhere Boy" is an auspicious big-screen directorial debut for Sam Taylor-Wood, who sublime skills should open more doors (as a sidenote she and Johnson are engaged and already have a child together). Both Duff and Scott-Thomas should gain more accolades for their parts, and they leave as much as an indellible image as Lennon and the Beatles did. Stay for the end and you'll see some poignant photographs of the real people, and you'll enjoy the soundtrack, filled with some actual Quarryman/Lennon tunes.