Film Reviews

NOWHERE BOY

By • Oct 18th, 2010 •

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Stunning psychological exposé by strong first-time director Taylor-Wood who understands the emotional stain that haunted John Lennon.

But first, the tabloid furor over NOWHERE BOY’S 43 year old first-time director, famous photographer/video artist Sam Taylor-Wood and her star, 19 year old Aaron Johnson. Taylor-Wood was married for 11 years to influential, wealthy art dealer Jay Jopling and was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997 just weeks after giving birth to a daughter, now 14 years old. She had a foot and a half of intestine removed. Then, in 2000, Taylor-Wood was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

But let’s not feel sorry for 2-time cancer survivor Taylor-Wood, but astonished by her – she must be breathtakingly fabulous and very strong-willed. Taylor-Wood has directed her first movie, snagged herself a hot teenage star as a fiancé, and just gave birth to her third, and Aaron Johnson’s first, daughter. And, to boot, she just brought an astonishing 17.5 million dollar London townhouse (without a mortgage!).

Why is this important? Well, I always maintain that a director must be either (a) obsessively infatuated or (b) in love with his star. I can always tell when a director does not like his star and it hurts the entire film for me. Think about great performances – Robert De Niro in RAGING BULL is merely one – and you will see director Martin Scorsese’s obsession with his star. The chemistry must be there.

Aaron Johnson was the star of KICK-ASS, but Chloë Moretz (now starring in LET ME IN) took all the notice and glowing reviews. Here, Johnson’s director lavishes attention on him – he is dazzling as John Lennon. No wonder he was seduced by Taylor-Wood.

What was John Lennon like? Taylor-Wood and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh focus on Lennon’s relationship with his foster-mother aunt, Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott-Thomas), who raised him with her husband since he was five years old, and his sexually seductive mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff).

When John finds out his mother is living a few blocks away with a husband and two young daughters, he walks over and begins an intense relationship with her. She is a provocative flirt who fawns on him. She is a sexual tease with every man she meets – even her son.

However, it is stern, emotionally-distant, unaffectionate Aunt Mimi who raised John. She was the true influence. And John, like all abandoned children, will resent and remind his mother she left him and never tried to make him part of her life.

Julia likes to party and dance. She introduces John to rock and roll (as a metaphor for sex) and he decides to start a band. When he meets sincere, 15 year old Paul McCartney, he is clearly jealous of his skills as a musician. This is the beginning of the history of their relationship.

Both boys lost their mothers. Paul’s mother died of cancer when he was fourteen; John’s mother let her miserable sister raise him (while going from man to man and having children. John finds out there is a half-sister somewhere). Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh has an exchange that puts John’s true emotional anger towards his mother in sharp focus when, at his birthday party at Julia’s house, he tells her that Paul lost his mother to cancer and asks, “What’s your excuse?”

We see the beginnings of John’s band and the development of John’s well-known sarcasm.

Taylor-Wood’s skill is impressive and she has rewarded Johnson (a former child actor with a strong theatrical resumé) by crafting a stunning performance. Every scene indulges Johnson and he is very, very good at showing the development of John’s boldly aggressive and dramatic personality.

Duff is a revelation. Her flirting made even me nervous. Scott-Thomas must have demanded a few redeeming scenes as a finally loving figure in John’s life. I didn’t believe it – even though we are told at the end that John called Aunt Mimi every week for the rest of his life. He had to – he was raised to do as he was told.

What is most significant in NOWHERE BOY is the director’s vision of John Lennon’s life – regardless of where it went, with enormous fame and a vast fortune. He could never be truly happy. In my opinion and personal knowledge, no one gets over being abandoned as a child. That is the rarely admitted problem of adoption. There is no real way of getting over the fact that your mother didn’t want you.

A sense of sadness and loss pervades the entire production.

And, it is now clear: the question that has plagued Beatles fans for decades has been answered. John Lennon married his Aunt Mimi when he married Yoko Ono.

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