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Movie about John Lennon’s adolescence delivers intimate look at rocker’s confused upbringing

When the movie ended 1:30 into the it, I was caught off guard because I expected more from a seemingly Beatles film, like the anthology about the legendary band that I hold as a Bible in my life.

However, ‘Nowhere Boy’ is much more than just a Beatles movie, it is a light into the adolescence of John Lennon, which was as rocky as it gets for a rock star.

Even expecting more, the movie earns high praise from me as an intimate look inside of John Lennon and where he came from. The movie begins quickly by starting off with the death of John’s uncle, Uncle George, played by David Threlfall. John’s Uncle George is the man that gives John his very first instrument – a harmonica, right before he dies.

Liam Daniel | The Weinstein Company, 2009

From the funeral of his uncle, John reunites with his long lost mother, Julia, played by Anne-Marie Duff. John, played by Aaron Johnson, has lived his entire adolescence with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, as his mother and father seemingly left when he was a child; however, we are held in suspense throughout the majority of the movie to find out what actually happened with his mother and father.

In an intense, honest scene near the end of the movie, John, Julia and Aunt Mimi, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, come clean about the story behind where his true mother and father went when he was just five years old.

Still, after the funeral, John reunites with his mother not knowing exactly what happened, but simply being happy that she is back in his life.

A trend throughout the movie is that John is holding a lot of emotion and thoughts within himself, and this is certainly the case between he and his mother, Julia. We see glimpses throughout the movie of John appearing to be a little bit skeptical of his mother – no time is this more evident then when they are first reintroduced, and after having a long visit on Blackpool Julia comes right out and says “I love you. You’re my dream.” The expression of John’s face alone shows he is a bit hesitant to give into that emotion that early into his reunion.

On the other side, John is still living with his Aunt Mimi, who he is clearly not as fond of as he was his Uncle George. Although we did not get to see much of his life between John and Uncle George, it’s safe to assume they were very close. In one scene early in the movie they are sharing some alcohol, passing the flask back and forth in John’s bedroom as they listen to a show on the radio.

One good thing that immediately came from John reuniting with Julia is John found his love for rock and roll, which now millions of people around the world can thank Julia for that. Julia teaches John how to play banjo, as well as introduces him to his first taste of rock music in a small cafe in Blackpool.

As the movie progresses, John turns into the ‘Nowhere Boy’ the title of the movie is named for. He bounces around from living with Mimi, to living with Julia, to living by himself in some quiet nature spot he can find. This is where we begin to see John as being ‘Nowhere’ because he doesn’t have a stable place to be. As we get later in the movie, these things change.

As great as the aspect of watching John grow up is, the movie is also great for showing the beginning of the Beatles; however, the movie cuts off before the bands name is officially the Beatles – at the end of the movie, they are called ‘The Occur’ and they are on their way to Hamburg, Germany.

Some of the best scenes in the film are ones where music is a major role in it. Maybe that’s just my taste, but they are certainly enjoyable.

Aaron Johnson plays a stellar role as John Lennon, a teenager who battles angst as a poor school student and rebels against almost everyone. Johnson taps into everything you could think of for Lennon. Lennon put on a cocky teenager mask throughout the movie, especially at school where he covers up for his poor academic records with his good looks.

As soon as Lennon gets his first taste of Elvis Pressley, he turns into the British version of him, drawing the attention of a very attractive girl at school. John and the school girl, Marie, played by Ophelia Lovibond, move rather quickly after he catches the attention of Marie after jumping off of a bus in from of her and a group of other guys who want to have sex with her. Marie seems to be the apple of everyones eye at school, presumably because she is the one they can get in bed easily. John and Marie engage in very sexual behaviors out in the open, in a small greenery area, and it’s shown on film (the movie is rated R for good reason). This scene alone begins to show the cavalier John Lennon that we grow to know.

Through the movie, we meet Paul McCartney and George Harrison, two rockers who join the band of Lennon and his schoolmates (The Quarrymen) in the middle of the movie. The first ever exchange between John and Paul is exciting because John is rather rude to Paul, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who appears as a 15-year-old scrawny kid who has skills on the guitar. At the time, he appears to have many more skills on it than John does, who is still learning.

At the beginning of their relationship, they seem to be in a sort of competition for the better guitarist and better rocker overall. When Julia begins giving a little more attention to Paul, John grows angry.

The directing in this movie is spectacular for me. The use of lighting, especially the sun’s natural lighting, is used very well throughout the film. I give a lot of praise to Sam Taylor-Wood, the director of the movie.

Liam Daniel | The Weinstein Company, 2009

While Johnson plays a great John Lennon, I also give a lot of praise to Thomas and Duff, who both play great roles as Mimi and Julia, respectively.

John has a beef with both Mimi and Julia, which you will find out more detail about if you watch the movie, but there is also an underlying stressor that John actually brings to the forefront – the relationship between Mimi and Julia, who are sisters, but don’t appear to be lovey-dovey throughout the movie.

I hesitate to write to much, running the risk of giving away one moment in the movie that absolutely shocked me to no avail. Not knowing the history of John Lennon’s life, definitely benefited me in watching this movie because I didn’t know what was coming next; however, even if you do know the book cover to cover on Lennon’s life, I think you would still greatly enjoy this movie to see his young life play out on the big screen.

The movie was too short for me, an avid Beatles fan; but I have come to grips with it. This is a movie I could watch over and over again, for both the content, conflicts, teenaged angst, and the music. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones between John and Paul. This movie is a must-see for any music fan, and still a must-see for any movie fan. Coming from Britain, this movie doesn’t lose a step trying to awe this American audience.

Buy or rent? Buy it, and watch it over and over and over again.


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