What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this drama about the beginnings of musician John Lennon -- and, later, the Beatles -- could appeal to kids who've discovered the iconic band's music. But since it goes beyond a mere "origin story" to tackle weighty themes like parental abandonment and mental illness, it's probably too dark for tweens and younger teens. That said, there's also a lot of compassion and empathy here, especially between characters who have reason to opt for hatred and estrangement, and the movie has a positive, healing message overall. Expect some sexually charged scenes (make-outs, etc.), plus swearing (including "f--k") and underage drinking.
What's the story?
Based on the life of Beatles founder John Lennon (Aaron Johnson), NOWHERE BOY introduces the iconic musician as a teen who reunites with his estranged mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), the charismatic, emotional, and sometimes unpredictable woman who wound up giving him up, in a fashion, to her comparatively more stable, straightforward sister, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Eager to channel his frustrations elsewhere, John learns to play the banjo from his mother and then transitions to the guitar. Soon, music has become his life, and he pursues it with the same zeal he has for casting off schoolwork and starting a band with his mates, later teaming up with another boy wonder named Paul (Thomas Brodie Sangster). But eventually John discoveres that a nowhere boy still wants answers if he's to become something besides a nowhere man.
Is it any good?
The problem with many biopics is that sometimes you can't see beyond the icon rendered onscreen. Not so with Nowhere Boy, director Sam Taylor-Wood's eloquent retelling of Lennon's teen years. There are plenty of cues, of course, to remind viewers that this John Lennon is the iconic musician who founded the Beatles. The characteristic impishness, the swagger, the intensity when he plays guitar -- it's all there. When we discover how fraught his relationship was with his mother, we understand the distress in his song "Julia." (It's his mother's name.) Even the movie's title encapsulates what he may have felt -- lost between two women who loved him and shared the responsibility of raising him, with no father in sight. But Taylor-Wood manages to make viewers forget about the legend and, in turn, care about the person Lennon was before he became what he did.
Johnson is brilliant as Lennon. Though not a facsimile, physically, there's enough of a resemblance in both looks and spirit to make it work. Scott Thomas gives us a layered Mimi, both foreboding and loving. And Duff's Julia is simultaneously maddeningly fragile and winningly likeable. There isn't much direct mention of the Beatles here; in fact, none at all, save for an oblique reference that tantalizes because we know how big the group eventually becomes. We see Paul, Ringo, and George, but not much. In fact, we could've spent more time with them. And it would have been nice to get more material on Lennon's father, too. Still, this journey takes you far from nowhere, right to the heart of a legend in the making.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about John Lennon's relationship with music. Did he seek out music as a refuge, or was it a way to connect with his mother? What does music mean to you?
How does this movie compare to others about artists in their early years? How is their art informed by their past?
How does the movie portray teen drinking? What are the consequences for the characters? What would the consequences be in real life?