Bio pics seem to work in indirect relation to one’s prior knowledge of the subject at hand. The more you know about the person(s) in question, the more likely you are to scoff at the necessary simplifications required to tell a life story in 98 minutes of screen time. In the case of Nowhere Boy we’re not even talking about a whole life -- just a few years of John Lennon’s late adolescence. The film centers on Lennon’s unique upbringing. Raised by an aunt and kept in the dark regarding his birth mother’s whereabouts, the film focuses on the bizarre love triangle that occurs when John (Aaron Johnson) begins to develop a relationship with his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) to the growing concern and annoyance of his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas at her most matronly).
The film relies all too readily on the type of shorthand tricks that define the genre. The film is filled with moments meant to foreshadow a history most of us know all too well, whether its the song Julia teaches John to play (“Maggie Mae,” which the Beatles eventually covered on their last album) or the cartoon walrus that John doodles in class instead of studying. Thomas and Duff both have the advantage of playing characters whose stories haven’t been told to death, but Johnson is in the helpless position of standing in for an icon. There’s not much he can do but go through the motions of being “John.” And the film resolves its dramatic tension by giving Thomas a maddeningly neat and tidy speech that’s meant to explain Julia’s behavior in the broadest of strokes. Much more interesting is Duff’s actual performance. There is a sexual undercurrent to Julia’s relationship with John that is unsettling and the film comes alive when it explores this deeply confused mother-son relationship. It’s a shame the film feels the need to resolve things so neatly.
Directed by first-timer Sam-Taylor Wood, the DVD does a nice job of duplicating the film’s clean, elegant and veddy, veddy British look. Extras are the standard issue featurettes and a few deleted scenes.