Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nowhere Boy

"Playing the Chords You're Dealt"
"Portrait of the Walrus as a Young Man"

"Half of What I Say is Meaningless/
But I Say it Just to Reach You/
John Lennon, after Khalil Gibran

It's always going to be John Lennon who is the focus of dramas based on The Beatles; there have been a couple already (even two about his assassin) and PBS has Lennon Naked in the wings.  No biographies of McCartney (no drama, really), Harrison (no dharma, really), or Starkey (trying to think of the last movie about a drummer...).  It's always Lennon.  Partially because he's capital-F Fascinating, but also because he was so capital-F "F'd up."

All of The Beatles were born into a world in flux, all born during the second World War, and, in turn, they would change the world, as they themselves were changed by having that world screaming at their feet.  But, that's The Beatles story.

Lennon's story is as fractured as his snarky-twee published stories are.  Raised by his strict Auntie Mimi and his jocular Uncle George, he barely escaped the Strawberry Field Salvation Army orphanage—a place that he would ultimately turn into a personal childhood playground, given the choice—(Odd, that Lennon was forever looking at alternatives to his situation as an answer...even the bad ones—he was never satisfied, until the end).  His father, Alf, was a merchant marine and never home.  His mother, Julia, was a perpetual teen-mother, bi-polar, substance-abuser and sex-addict.  Mimi took John to keep him close to Julia (rather than with Alf), while simultaneously keeping them apart.  No wonder he was never comfortable.

Sam Taylor-Wood's Lennon bio-pic Nowhere Boy (one of the few real references to Beatles songs in the thing) tells the story of Lennon's turbulent teen years—can you imagine being in charge of Lennon when he was going through puberty?—when he was flushing through some independence, experiencing second-hand death, sex, and music, all swirling through a loyalty-abandonment battle when he meets his long-lost Mother...and begins to understand the circumstances of his own almost Dickensian story.  That Julia also inspires his dedication to music, and the forming of his band The Quarreymen (the proto-Beatles), whose first concert starts to lock in the relationships that would inform the rest of his life, makes this movie a bit like being fortunate enough to watch a lightning strike.  It makes great drama,  and the screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh does a masterful job of making a familar story fresh, and putting in the comedic grout that informed Lennon's manner, while also capturing in smart, short-touches portraits of McCartney (Thomas Sangster) (their first meeting is wonderfully indicative) and Harrison (Sam Bell).

Kristin Scott Thomas does a great job of showing the brittle side of Aunt Mimi, while also quietly showing why she was such a good co-conspirator with her chargeAnne-Marie Duff's Julia is a girl-child, too immature to be a mother, as she always wants to be the girl-friend.  But the miracle is Aaron Johnson, who doesn't really look like Lennon (in the same way that Joaquin Phoenix never looked like Johnny Cash in Walk the Line), but has done such a fine job of looking at documentaries and studying the much filmed Lennon, that he has the manner much so, that he begins to resemble him, mostly in motion, until you just accept the impersonation.  We've seen our share of bad Beatles imitations, but Johnson captures the illusion in all its facets of the diamond in the rough, and the Spaniard in the Works.

Nowhere Boy is a Matinee.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

YAY. Glad you liked, it's a pity this one seems all but forgotten and I feel like you do. Sure, KST comes out on top for me(but you know I'm a devoted fan) and Anne-Marie Duff is lovely but I'm really impressed with how well Aaron Johnson does with his role. Really on point; I'm looking forward to good things from him.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Pretty damn amazing, actually....and I feel a bit guilty for hedging the review calling it a Matinee. I don't trust myself with Beatles movies, as I'm SUCH a devoted fan. But I thought they did an excellent job of creating the characters with just enough fore-knowledge and repect for the humor Lennon loved and emulated. And the use of "In Spite of All the Danger" was spot on.