Nowhere Boy exists for the same reason that Googling “celebrity high school photos” will yield over 35 million results — there is, in modern society, a deep and abiding obsession with famous people, and so one of the correlative expectations floating about out there is that there surely must have been some fascinating signs of greatness in their adolescence.
Or maybe not. Set in Liverpool in 1955, coming-of-age tale Nowhere
Boy centers around 15-year-old John Lennon (Aaron Johnson, of Kick-Ass), and his differently strained relationships with his stuffy aunt and guardian, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), and party-girl mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), with whom he has only recently reconnected. Amidst the syrup-thick accents, there’s teenage fisticuffs, a burgeoning awareness of girls, the discovery of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and other music, the formation of a band and, eventually, an encounter with a young Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster).
The acting here is fine. In particular, Johnson wears well the mantle of young legend, capturing the hidden effort that so often goes into affecting an air of teenage insouciance, while also slyly spotlighting unspoken feelings of jealousy and competition awakened by Paul — feelings that he himself doesn’t even yet fully understand, but will eventually spur him on to great artistic heights. When the movie is just charting John’s knockabout adventures, and letting Johnson’s lingering silent glances fill in the spaces of quiet heartache and confusion he feels at learning his biological mother has lived virtually around the corner his entire life, it’s in good hands — something trusting, unhurried and subtle.
The problem is that Nowhere
Boy, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, wants to hurry and get John together with Paul, and poke us in the ribs and show us how important music is to John. And, dramatically speaking, this material is a non-starter. (Damaged kids escape into what they can; for John it was eventually music, though it could have been something else.) Ergo, the second half of the movie just kind of unfolds, without much in the way of surprise, save a late jolt related to familial tragedy. It’s a serviceable snapshot of the developing mind that eventually created some great music — some of the pain and disconnect that found an escapist home in rock ‘n’ roll — but unless one impresses upon the movie some sort of sweeping scope and emotionalism born of a grander investment in the Beatles mythology, Nowhere Boy is at its core a rather unexceptional story, told in conventional fashion. For more information on the movie, click here. (Weinstein Company, R, 98 minutes)