Returning back to the UK for the Christmas holiday, I sat down at the end of last year with my ma and watched Scorsese’s Living in the Material World, an in-depth documentary on George Harrison. Going through his early Liverpudlian life, looking at his time with the Beatles and then onto his work within the film industry as an executive producer (The Life of Brian, Time Bandits, etc.), it was a vast exploration of the outsider Beatle; one which many people still know so little about. So what about everybody’s favourite Beatle? Surely we’ve heard it all before?
Nowhere Boy is certainly not a testimonial or indexical record on the sprightly life of a young John Lennon. With both feet pretty firmly set in relishing and exacerbating the drama of his troublesome, adolescent years, Sam Taylor-Wood’s film is a triumphant work of fictionalised fact.
Kick Ass dude and soon-to-be superstar Aaron Johnson plays Lennon like an Elvis fanboy (just found out he is younger than me. How disgusting). Anyway, Johnson’s John is a rebel, with a little bit of cause, a pinch of shakin’, but mainly twist and shouting. Moreover, the portrayal here is fun and we don’t really care that he looks nothing like the man himself. The film follows Lennon on his provocative decline, from his eureka musical moment, up until the boys head out to Hamburg for that tour.
Putting the burgeoning music career to one side, Wood’s film is grounded in the complex and difficult teenage period of Lennon’s life and mending broken bridges with his estranged mother Julia (played by Shameless’ Anne-Marie Duff). The performances here are strong, particularly the ever-delightful Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon’s difficult, pernickety aunt and foster mother Mimi. The music is, as expected, rather fantastic also.
Maybe it was just the snuggly, familial festive period, or a chemical balance from the overeating, but I was brought to tears on one occasion in the film. Reading that back, I do feel it’s quite ridiculous that I cried at this film,
But does it provide anything new? More crucially, does it really need to? Although you can take it as a bit of folly, the exploration of the tripartite relationship that Lennon had with his guardian aunt and real mother is a relatively undiscovered terrain, at least cinematically, and one that audiences can even partially empathise with.
If you’re a Beatles fan – see it. If you’re not – see it. It’s not about the Beatles at all really, it’s about adolescence. Write up done, time to stick the White Album on the big turning table thing.