Yet another Lennon and ‘Beatles’-based release, what can this one possibly hope to bring to the already crowded table? Quite a lot as it happens. The feature directorial debut of Sam Taylor-Wood, a fellow YBA (Young British Artist) of ‘Hunger’ director Steve McQueen, 'Nowhere Man' delivers a refreshingly different look into the young, troubled life of John Winston Lennon.
In contrast to popular myth, Lennon was not raised in working class Liverpool but in more comfortable middle class surroundings thanks to his aunt Mimi (Scott Thomas). Unaware that his unorthodox mother Julia (Duff) lived just minutes away, the news came as quite a shock to the 16-year-old, played with conviction by Aaron Johnson.
The story continues to show Lennon’s passion for music, the burgeoning and vibrant Liverpudlian scene, his first meeting with Paul McCartney, the formation of his skiffle group, their performance at the Woolton Garden Fete and the formation of ‘The Quarrymen’, who preceded the Beatles. Ending where ‘Backbeat’ begins, with the band’s departure for their hedonistic Hamburg days, ‘Nowhere Boy’ is a good companion piece to Iain Softley’s biopic.
Shortly after the opening credits roll, it's clear that the filmmakers didn’t obtain rights to the Beatles' back catalogue and, to be fair, given the costs involved it would be more surprising if they had. Anyway, there is always a danger that a Beatles film, containing original Beatles music but not the stars is an unnecessary project given their own five feature films and all the additional archive footage available. However, Yoko Ono did give her blessing for the use of Lennon’s ‘Mother’, which is central to the plot.
Although we do see the formation of the band, this is not so much a saccharine Beatles film as a portrait of Lennon’s early days and the events which shaped him. Taylor-Wood’s version of events takes on a dark turn as she insinuates incestuous desires between mother and son, which are disturbing at best and even more so if not based on fact. For example, in real-life Lennon was reintroduced to his mother at a much younger age and visited her regularly from when he was 11-years-old, but in the film they are much closer in age and share many uncomfortably intimate moments.
Written by ‘Control’s Matt Greenhalgh, ‘Nowhere Boy’ also avoids the pitfalls of many formulaic music biopics such as ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Ray’ thanks to the non-linear style.
Johnson, who does not look like Lennon but resembles the musician by the end of the film, is impressive in the lead role and with ‘Kick-Ass’ being released in April, he’s one to watch in 2010. The two lead females (Scott Thomas, Duff) are central to the success of the film and both received British Film Award nominations for their roles.
‘Nowhere Boy’ may not be an all-encompassing biopic of the music legend but this moving and visceral debut is a snapshot of how Lennon became a real Nowhere Man.