SUNDANCE 2010! Quint loves the John Lennon biopic NOWHERE BOY starring Aaron Johnson and Kristin Scott Thomas!
Published at: Jan. 22, 2010, 7:19 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here fresh out of my first Sundance screening: Sam Taylor Wood’s John Lennon biopic NOWHERE BOY starring KICK-ASS’s Aaron Johnson as Lennon, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon’s strict Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as Lennon’s mother.
I’m a big, big Beatles fan and knew a little about John’s troubled childhood… how he was raised by his Aunt after being abandoned by his mother, but I’m not a Beatles scholar so much of the detail was new to me.
Aaron Johnson’s on a roll right now. This one-two punch of KICK-ASS and NOWHERE BOY is pretty impressive… the former underlining his leading man charisma in a big event picture and the latter really giving us a glimpse at his range as an actor. And I’m not one of those people who thinks superhero movies are one level and dramas are another, so don’t read that as snobbery. His character in Kick-Ass demands a radically different set of acting skills than Nowhere Boy, which is a deeper, more contemplative look at a troubled genius.
The biggest compliment I can give to Johnson is that I didn’t hate Lennon as the movie unfolded. John Lennon’s personality is definitely on the smart-ass side, but this film really exposes his inner conflicts, which cause him to unleash his demons in some violent ways, whether it’s physically violent or emotionally. Lennon was of the James Dean era of troubled youth and Johnson had to juggle capturing the persona we recognize and being true to Lennon himself at this time in his life… all while bringing an audience along for the journey.
And there are times where John Lennon’s a huge dick in this movie. Huge dick. Big time asshole, but we see just enough of his loving relationship with his Uncle George (David Threlfall) in the opening minutes of the picture (before Uncle George leaves the picture and Lennon is once again abandoned, living with his emotionless Aunt Mimi) that he’s earned a bit of capital to act out later.
Speaking of Aunt Mimi, Kristin Scott Thomas knocks it out of the park here. As big of a job as Johnson has, Kristin Scott Thomas walks a razor thin line of likability here. Strict, but loving is hard to pull off effectively without coming across as some fictional exaggeration, but I really did feel the love between John and Mimi… sometimes told only in a glance or the hint of a smile, sometimes in tears.
The flick opens with the jarring chord that opens A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (both the song and the movie), but other than a few hints at what is to come it really isn’t a Beatles movie. We see where John learns to play Banjo, with the song Maggie Mae, which The Beatles later recorded, we see how Paul and George came into John’s life, but even with those little nods the word “Beatles” is never once mentioned.
This is really the story of John Lennon getting to know his mother, which causes tension with his Aunt Mimi who seems to be both scared of losing John to her undependable sister and being left alone after the death of her husband.
We don’t know the circumstances of John’s abandonment until late in the movie, but we see its effects mostly in “the getting to know you again” relationship between John and his mother, Julia. In a weird way these moments felt more like date scenes… going to Blackpool, lots of dancing and affection. John’s attracted to the free lifestyle his mother leads. While his Aunt Mimi is dependable, steady… she represents the old way of being. His mother loves Rock and Roll, his Aunt loves Bach. John’s rebellion from his Aunt brings him to rock and roll.
We see this in his obsession with Elvis… he even has a line where he says “Why couldn’t God have made me Elvis instead of just John Lennon!”
It’s the music, from the Quarrymen on to his new, unnamed band that is about to go play in Germany, that focuses Lennon’s rebellious nature. He’s able to focus his pain and confusion into the music.
It’s a great story told incredibly well by Sam Taylor Wood. I wish there was a little bit more between LOVE, ACTUALLY’s Thomas Sangster (Paul) and John as those were my favorite scenes in the movie. Seeing how Paul influenced John, helping keep John’s demons at bay, and that dynamic of their partnership was very touching and felt incredibly authentic.
But that was a different story. The focus here is John’s coming of age, the tragedy of his family life and how all that created a perfect storm of drive and artistic ability that ended up shaping one of the most important artists of the 20th Century.
The Weinsteins have this movie and because the acting is so good I’d bet we’ll actually see it released… I’d be shocked if we didn’t see Thomas up for best supporting actress this time next year.
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