Nowhere Boy (2009)


Our Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewer: Charity Bishop


Once, I was searching through my grandma's collection of old records and found one from The Beatles. I held it up incredulously and she said, "That belongs to your father." It's a shame this movie isn't cleaner, because I think as a fan he would enjoy it.


There is not much John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) has going for him other than good looks and charm. He is constantly in trouble at the expensive prep school his aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas) is sending him to, he isn't sure what he wants to do with his life, and he never can quite get the girl he likes. That's when Mimi's husband dies, the only person who really understood and connected with John. It devastates him but at the funeral he makes a connection that impacts his life from that moment on -- he sees his mother for the first time since childhood. Julia (Anne Marie Duff) has never explained to him why she left him to be raised by her sister and doesn't seem to want to talk about it now. Living with Bobby (David Morissey) and with two little girls of her own, she is merely delighted to reconnect with her son. But their relationship, the strain between her and Mimi, and John's own emotional hang-ups are destined for collision.


Around this same time, noticing his mother's infatuation with Elvis and other emerging stars, John decides he is going to become famous and part of a band. Playing in local events with his friends introduces him to several people who are going to ultimately change his life -- one of them a talented fifteen-year-old musician named Paul (Thomas Brodie Sangster). Not knowing anything about this man's life other than his tragic death, I entered into the film uncertain as to what I would find. It is neither a biographical piece nor straight drama, but is actually an in-depth exploration of the dynamic between John, his mother, and his aunt Mimi. Much of his antics is background static and while it is delightful to see him take his first steps toward becoming a famous musician, it's more about the relationships in his life and dealing with them. At times, it is painful, as the various members of the tragic family intentionally hurt one another -- but there is a happy outcome in the fact that reconciliation and acceptance (and healing) do come to pass. It's very raw emotionally and frankly I am surprised and a little disappointed that this film didn't gather too much notice, because the acting is exquisite. Not just from the younger set, but from the adults as well.


The most powerful scene includes a dramatic retelling of why John actually lives with Mimi -- the intensity closes around the audience like a vice and when it is over, we feel as drained as the characters do. Maybe the greatest message included is one John says, "There is no point hating someone you love." Unfortunately, the message comes at a price and this one may be a bit too high for many viewers. These boys swear a lot -- the f-word is thrown around more than a dozen times, along with s**t, and some abuse of deity. Equally jarring are vulgar references to male body parts. An early scene shows a girl telling John to f-off or show her his penis. He chooses the latter (implied, we see nothing). Later, they are shown engaged in clothed sexual behavior -- he uses his fingers on her and then she returns the favor by getting down on her knees (the scene shifts after that, but I found the entire encounter distasteful). John overhears his mother and her boyfriend through the walls of the house. He is suspended from school for having porn (only the front of the magazine is shown). Julia's familiarity with her son is slightly uncomfortable -- she flirts with him and once snuggles up against him, to which he has an awkward reaction. Underage drinking and partying is present; there is some violence in the form of several brutal fist fights between band members. Drunk and upset at a funeral, John smashes his guitar into the face of a friend and then punches another in the jaw, drawing blood.


I was left with two emotions at the end of this film -- the first was tremendous respect for Mimi, because even though she makes some terrible mistakes in raising John, it is apparent how much she loves him and how much she endures in the hope he will become a good man one day. The second was disappointment in the brief but coarse sexual content and bad language, because the film is very moving in a lot of ways, with solid performances. A biopic doesn't have to be rated R to be excellent -- Walk the Line did a similar story in terms of dealing with youthful ambition and emotional turmoil, but without the offensive content. Shame the same cannot be said of Nowhere Boy.