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Sundance 2010 Review: NOWHERE BOY

For me to say The Beatles have been in the public consciousness more this past year than they have been in the last decade, would be like saying, 'People seem to really enjoy sliced bread lately.' The Beatles are engrained into the minds of every generation, whether they latch onto their music or not. But with the remastered releases of their albums, a best selling video game, and Robert Zemeckis developing a motion-capture remake of the band's Yellow Submarine animated movie, it would certainly seem that Beatle-mania is still alive and well.

In comes Nowhere Boy, which offers a heart wrenching look at a young John Lennon BEFORE he went on to form The Beatles. In fact, the band name of the future global sensations isn't mentioned once in the film. Of course, why would it need to be? Knowing the ultimate destiny of John Lennon, while his troubled youth and his unbelievable circumstances are presented before you, is all the fun after all. Right?

Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood (Love You More) and adapted from the memoirs of John Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird, Nowhere Boy first introduces us to a 15 year old John Lennon in 1950's Liverpool. At the age of five, after his mother suffers a mysterious breakdown, John is raised by his Aunt Mimi for the rest of his youth. When he is suddenly reacquainted with his mother, Julia Lennon, who has lived just around the corner most of his life, a tug-of-war begins between the two sisters; with John's emotions and affection caught in the middle.

John is instantly enamored with his hip mother, who teaches him all about rock n' roll. Obsessed with becoming the next Elvis, John founds the band The Quarryman, which consists of his school mates and a couple of other Liverpuldians who join soon after -- the more naturally gifted and level headed Paul McCartney and a revoltingly young but gifted George Harrison. The secret heartbreak of John's past is slowly unraveled to the rebellious young teen, all while working toward achieving his musical dreams.


Mimi and Julia, respectively played by Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff (The Last Station), could be viewed by some as the main characters of the film, as their top notch performances would certainly attest to that claim. But it's Aaron Johnson's (Illusionist, Kick-Ass) magnetic performance as John Lennon is the main attraction here. The film gives us glimpses into what drove John and where his creative fuel stemmed from. He perfectly captures Lennon's brash sense of humor, his charisma, and all the subtle mannerisms and voice traits that could give Jaime Foxx and Joaquin Phoenix a run for their biopic money.

Even though Thomas Sangster (Love Actually) doesn't quite look or act the part of a young McCartney, his chemistry with Johnson is pivotal to you believing the two would go on to accomplish what they did, together. Lennon and McCartney's personalities really compliment one another and they are united deeply by their early losses. "Lennon and McCartney" has become a label in itself to describe great duo's, so I'm glad they carefully built that relationship between the more emotionally gripping scenes between Lennon, his mother and his aunt.


Though there have been some gripes of the director not capturing the bustling atmosphere in Liverpool in that era (that so obviously shaped the young band), I think Taylor-Wood picked the right aspects to focus on. She shows some real flair at times, most notably with her time lapsed montage of Lennon learning how to play the banjo. She also bravely pushes the film into R-Rated territory with the erratic and erotic behavior of a rebellious teen.

Nowhere Boy is a fantastic emotional ride that captures tragedy and triumph, as well as loss and love... which is all you need.

 

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