Nowhere Boy (2009)

Badly flawed

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 11, 2010 on tonymacklin.net.

Imagine. Imagine if they made a film about John Lennon that wasn't safe and conventional.

We can only imagine. Nowhere Boy isn't it. It's no Hard Day's Night (1964); it's more soft-boiled coming-of-age. This year we've already had Secretariat-lite; now we have Lennon-lite.

Nowhere Boy is a biopic about John Lennon's formative days in Liverpool. But it's bio without brio.

John Lennon always had an edge, but Nowhere Boy offers Lennon smooth. He's a pretty bland bloke.

Granted in the movie, Lennon exposes himself, rides on top of a bus, and gets suspended from school. But he often seems more Harry Potter than a simmering iconoclast. The movie does have him punch Paul, but McCartney says that never happened.

Nowhere Boy focuses on the struggle between his aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas) and his mother Julia (Anne-Mare Duff) for control of John.

John's father left -- under duress. Julia is a flirty, promiscuous woman who reconnects with her son when he is a teenager. Mimi is straitlaced and stable.

In Nowhere Boy, John Lennon plays shuttlecock to the sisters' endless game of emotional, familial badminton.

Director Sam Taylor-Wood came to fame as a photographer. In July the 43-year old woman had a baby with her 20-year old leading man Aaron Johnson.

Obviously there was more passion offscreen than on-screen.

Johnson is passable as Lennon, but the quirks and individuality of the burgeoning artist are absent.

Thomas Brodie Sangster makes a small Paul. At least he is interesting.

One of the best scenes is when John and Paul are playing "Blue Moon" together in John's house. It has the freshness and charm that the film mostly lacks.

Taylor-Wood's best scenes are when she somewhat captures the freshness and youthful energy of rock 'n roll.

Nowhere Boy -- screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh -- is one of those movies that tells you instead of shows you. It uses the word "genius," but doesn't show it. It says Lennon is a writer -- "a poet" -- but it seldom shows him writing. He does jot down "walrus" in a notebook. I guess that makes him a poet.

The movie uses the word "sarcasm," but John's dialogue is sans sarcasm, which was a strong Lennon trait.

Nowhere Boy goes somewhere, but it's not into art. It's more into the Lifetime Channel than the English Channel.

Yoko Ono has okayed the movie.

I think John Lennon would sneer at it.

At least I hope so.


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