Newest Review: ... vulnerable side. Finally, Julia (Lennon's real mother) initially appears to be a free-spirit, untouched by the worries and concerns of life... more
A slice of John Lennon's young life
Nowhere Boy (DVD)
Member Name: GentleGenius
Nowhere Boy (DVD)
Advantages: Interesting, well-acted, enlightening, entertaining
Disadvantages: The casting could have been better, questionable as to historic accuracy
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 98 mins
DIRECTOR: Sam Taylor-Johnson
PRODUCERS: Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader & Douglas Rae
SCREENPLAY: Matt Greenhalgh
MUSIC: Alison Goldfrapp & Will Gregory
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as John Lennon
Kristin Scott Thomas as Aunt Mimi
Anne-Marie Duff as Julia Lennon
David Threlfall as Uncle George
Josh Bolt as Pete Shotton
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Paul McCartney
Sam Bell as George Harrison
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Nowhere Boy is a film which highlights the events during a short period of time in John Lennon's life, concentrating on when he was aged 16 and 17.
The story begins with Lennon living at his Aunt Mimi's house in Menlove Avenue, Liverpool. We see John at this stage in his life with an already well-developed rebellious streak up and running, complete with Aunt Mimi voicing her disapproval at what she perceived to be her nephew's cavalier attitude to life. John was very close to his Uncle George, Mimi's husband. When George died suddenly, John was cut to the core, which simultaneously created more difficulties with he and Mimi relating to one another.
John discovers that his mother Julia was living nearby, and on paying her a surprise visit, the pair gradually re-establish a relationship, but it is fraught with difficulty, partly due to Julia's whimsical nature and partly due to Mimi disapproving of her sister, John's mother, reappearing in John's life.
Julia teaches John how to play banjo, and from there he expanded out into guitar, forming his first band with a few schoolmates, which he named The Quarrymen. After their first gig in a local park, John is introduced to Paul McCartney who then joins the band, and before long brings his friend George Harrison into the limelight. Gradually John and Paul - who had problems relating to one another at first - form a strong songwriting bond and friendship, especially when John's mother Julia is killed in a hit-and-run car accident, as Paul had recently lost his own mother and was able to empathise.
The rest really is history, and I'm sure most people over a certain age are fully aware of Lennon's story, and how he came to create the world's all-time most famous pop/rock band.
Firstly, let me say that I don't think my above preamble should be considered as a spoiler, because the John Lennon and subsequent Beatles story isn't fictional....yes, it really did happen! Also, most people - even those who are too young to remember The Beatles - surely must have more than a vague idea of various events in Lennon's early life and what they led up to.
I was a little hesitant at watching Nowhere Boy, being more than a tad suspicious as regards its intent, and how true to life the storyline would be. Also, John Lennon as a person isn't easy to characterise, so I was dubious as to whether Aaron Taylor-Johnson would be able to effectively deliver the goods.
First things first! Aaron Taylor-Johnson actually is rather good in the role of the teenage John Lennon, although in the film, bore little physical resemblance to the man himself. He adeptly managed to carry off John's demeanour, of a young man who was bright, positive, artistic, enthusiastic and energetic, yet rarely at peace with the demons inside of himself which would torment him through the route of recurring dreams from the day when his parents split up, his father moving to New Zealand and his Aunt Mimi stepping in to take control and care of John's upbringing. Aaron Taylor-Johnson managed to create a nice balance between Lennon's lighter and darker side, expressing each of those characteristics with flare, although for me he did come across as a bit too nice at times....it is my understanding that Lennon, although his bark was infinitely much worse than his bite, was capable of snarling - and did - more viciously than Aaron Taylor-Johnson managed to.
I was a little disappointed with Anne-Marie Duff's portrayal of Julia, Lennon's fun-loving, unstable mother. It isn't that she acted her role badly....more that I felt her resemblance to the real Julia is too far away to be truly convincing. However, all due praise to Anne-Marie Duff for carrying off what must have been at least a moderately difficult part to play, and she did act it well.
I am in two minds about Kristin Scott's role as the down-to-earth, no nonsense Aunt Mimi. There is no doubt that she acted the part with perfect brilliance, but I feel something went a bit wrong with the characterisation, in that judging from a couple of interviews I many years ago saw with the real Aunt Mimi (soon after Lennon's death), the part of Mimi in this film is put across as far too .... can I say this? .... far too posh! The Mimi I saw (the real one), came across to me as a solid, down to earth, hard-working woman with very stoical values...a lady who idolised the nephew she raised and cared for, wanting what in her eyes and using her own personal set of values, the best for him. Mimi in this film is far less earthy than she should be.
Although and obviously a significant character, the part of George Harrison in Nowhere Boy is minor, as this is a film which doesn't focus on The Beatles, because it ends before they start properly as a band, although he does creep into the picture.
For me, the most absurd piece of casting was that of Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Paul McCartney. Brodie-Sangster in the film bears no resemblance whatsoever to McCartney, both in looks, mode of speech and personality. Again, I feel this is more down to poor characterisation rather than any fault with the actor himself. The mismatch I found to be so absurd, that it is almost laughable.
However, despite the poor casting in this film, the acting is extremely good and it does, providing it is true, give an excellent insight into the driving force behind John Lennon as a very young man. Of course, certain aspects had to be fictionalised as nobody nowadays can possibly know the finer points of, for instance, the conversations Lennon and his friends/family had with one another, but the dialogue in the film is very well-written.
One thing which I find interesting is that on the imdb.com movie information website, Cynthia Powell (John Lennon's first wife) wrote the plot summary for this film. I am not for one minute criticising her précis, as she does simply say it how it is, but unless I have misunderstood John's age in Nowhere Boy, I don't think he had yet met her at the point when the film ends. However, Cynthia Powell makes no special claim to be an authority on John's life in the plot summary she wrote, and I feel that is a good thing.
For me, the most interesting - and haunting - part of Nowhere Boy is that it does give a very good insight into the darker side of Lennon's mind, and what probably more than helped to create an individual who although witty, bright, intelligent, sensitive and a gifted singer/songwriter/musician, carried a lot of anger around with him, which on occasions he didn't hesitate to express. The film focuses quite heavily on the instability of Lennon's very early life and how he was forced to make impossible choices at a far too young age, together with his whole world being turned upside down and the rug of security being almost cruelly torn from under his feet. John, probably understandably, grew up with a deep mistrust of people and their intentions, having been let down on more than one occasion by his whimsical, irresponsible mother....a mother who he idolised. The impression I get is that John was pushed from pillar to post, constantly being made to feel under pressure to be continually grateful to his Aunt Mimi, together with feeling isolated, rejected and neglected by his parents. As a child and at root, he was a pawn in a game which was being played by adults who in effect dumped their own problems onto him.... which is something I personally and very strongly can relate to. For that very reason, I found some parts of Nowhere Boy quite difficult to watch, yet at the same time very poignant and touching.
There is some rather good music in the film. For instance, we have offerings from Howling Wolf, Wanda Jackson, Elvis Presley, Bill Justis and Jerry Lee Lewis to name just a few. I was interested and slightly amused to note that the part of the film which shows The Quarrymen playing their first gig in the park, the music they produce is actually quite good....but, sadly is an inaccuracy, as I do happen to possess a very rare and much-treasured audio clip from that first gig - yes really! - and although I hold it in great esteem for obvious reasons, in reality The Quarrymen were truly terrible! However, we can forgive them that because they were very young, it was their first attempt at music-making, and with a member re-shuffle, some good management and good production (via Brian Epstein and George Martin), the band improved beyond anybody's wildest dreams. History speaks for itself!
In summary, I wouldn't go all out to say that Nowhere Boy is a written in stone piece of history regarding Lennon and his early life, but it is nonetheless a fascinating glimpse into perhaps what served to wire up his brain and make him who he was. I don't know how much or how little Nowhere Boy would appeal to religiously hardline Lennon fans who view everything about him almost as a holy sacrament, but it has to be said that despite the mis-casting, the acting all round is very good, and it certainly is an enjoyable, interesting film to watch. For die-hard Lennon fans, if you wish to watch Nowhere Boy, I'd recommend going into it with an open mind, perhaps even viewing it entirely as a work of fiction and for the purposes of enjoying, disconnecting from the John Lennon element - even though it is supposed to be about him - and seeing it simply as a story.
At the time of writing, Nowhere Boy can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.10 to £18.99
Used: from £2.57 to £18.99
Collectible: only one copy currently available @ £8.00 (appears to be used)
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Summary: I was surprised that I enjoyed it!