Nowhere Boy is about John Lennon’s early years – adolescence toward young manhood, which as we know is not a normal coming of age tale since the nowhere boy was well on his way to becoming the most famous man in the world.
The film shows the influence of two women on John’s life: his mean Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who raised him, and his absent mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who re-enters his life at a crucial bit, extracting pain but also possibly inspiring artistry.
Lennon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) knew Mimi wasn’t his mother, but did not learn his mother’s identity until his uncle died and she showed up to the funeral. He was shocked to learn that all this time, she’s lived in the neighbourhood, must have been watching as he grew up. Julia is the younger, prettier, more outgoing, easier to love sister of Mimi’s. John and Julia’s relationship feels a little like a romance as they get to know each other in a little bubble.
But remember, during this time he’s also meeting George, and Paul. The world Beatles is never uttered, though, because this isn’t about the birth of the band. It’s about one ordinary teenager’s life, and the family secrets and tragedies that ushered him into adulthood.
It constricts the heart a little to know that the man who sang All You Need Is Love didn’t always get it. And if he had, we might not have him, or his beautiful lyrics, or his search for truth and meaning.
Sam Taylor-Johnson directed this film, with input from Paul McCartney and Lennon’s half sister, Julia Baird. It is her feature length debut. Her style is unpretentious, and she knows where her focus should be: on John. On the many Johns. The lesser-known Johns. It’s satisfying, as a biopic, because of its narrow scope. We all know who John became; this film tells us how he became. It’s fresh, and that’s very hard to do when we’re talking about one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet. It leaves behind the expected trappings and delivers only gleeful hints of what might be on the horizon. It’s thrilling to watch because of where it does not go.
Casting was obviously going to be a huge part of the film’s success or failure. Taylor-Johnson admits she was most nervous about finding the right Paul, as he’s still alive to see it. Instead of look-alikes, she went with a sweet-faced actor known to us as the drummer kid from Love Actually, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. But John, of course, makes the movie thrum, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson was its beating heart. With no overt mimicry, he embodies John’s spirit. It’s beautiful to watch.