Even John Lennon didn’t know he would be John Lennon.
In the mid-1950s, 15-year-old John wasn’t a revolutionary musician. Was he artistic and smart? Absolutely. But his foul mouth and wild streak camouflaged the scared little boy whose parents abandoned him as a small child, leaving him in the care of his strict Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). When John spots his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) at a funeral and learns she is living just around the corner, a chain of emotional events ensues that culminates in revelations of family secrets, heartbreak and the formation of John’s first rock ‘n’ roll band.
According to a making-of featurette, Aaron Johnson (best known in the States for the title role in “Kick-Ass”) watched and read everything he could about John Lennon — then purposely forgot it all. This is perhaps the best method for anyone playing an icon in their early days. Sure, John proclaimed himself a genius to his exasperated school headmaster — but don’t all teenagers believe they’re smarter than adults, just misunderstood? Johnson’s young Lennon is a teen both typical and not — typical in his moodiness and defiance, but unique in his family history and, later, in his prowess at several instruments and at songwriting.
Thomas and Duff are pitch perfect as two opposite forces in John’s life — the overbearing authority figure who opened her home to a little boy no one else wanted and the free spirit with a dark side who often goes overboard in her attempts to reconnect with her first child. Another standout is Thomas Brodie Sangster (“Love Actually”) as young Paul McCartney, whose quiet presence provides a foil for John’s brash personality and who provides guidance on the guitar and in life, as someone else who lost his mother too soon.
The best biopics provide the audience with an insight into the early days of an artist and the underpinnings of who they will be when they share their gifts with the world. As “Nowhere Boy” skillfully shows us, John Lennon’s young life was filled with confusion and pain. But without these tough times, the teenager from Liverpool may not have grown into the musical force whose work continues to change lives today.
Special features are sparse but insightful: two deleted scenes and two featurettes, which include an interview with a premier Beatles historian.
Film: 5 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps