Nowhere Boy, a docudrama about Lennon's childhood and teen years now playing in Los Angeles and New York and expanding nationally soon, doesn't delve into this but it does provide an informative, unexpectedly emotional glimpse into the formative experiences of an eventual icon.
In mid-1950's, post-WWII Liverpool, American rock & roll was making a significant impression on British teens as well as their Yank counterparts. Teenager John Lennon (Aaron Johnson, a star on the rise between this and playing the title role of Kick-Ass earlier this year) was already a disciplinary challenge at his private high school. Taken in as a young boy by his Aunt Mimi (the always reliable Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (a brief but enjoyable turn by David Threlfall), John becomes even more difficult after George's unexpected death.
Things don't get any less complicated for young John or Mimi when his birth mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff of The Magdalene Sisters and The Last Station), re-enters the picture. Long haunted by sketchy memories of Julia, John finally gets the opportunity to put the puzzle pieces of his childhood together. The answers don't come without a price, including an intense, pseudo-incestuous relationship with Julia. In the process, though, John discovers an interest in sex and, most critically, in music.
Nowhere Boy was nominated for numerous 2010 BAFTA awards, including Outstanding British Film and Best Supporting Actress nods for both Thomas and Duff. The women are excellent both separately and together as long-estranged sisters who ultimately find some degree of reconciliation through their mutual love for John. Johnson is fine as the future rock star if more cut from photogenic, leading man stock than Lennon was. 17-year old Thomas Brodie Sangster (Nanny McPhee) is probably the best casting, short of going back in a time machine and fetching young Paul McCartney to play himself.
Questions have been raised over the decades about John Lennon's possible bisexuality. A prior film, Christopher Munch's acclaimed The Hours and Times (1991), speculated about the depth of John's relationship with Brian Epstein, the Beatles' gay manager. The pair took a private trip to Spain in the early 1960's and rumors have persisted ever since that theirs was more than a professional relationship, although Lennon denied that he and Epstein ever "consummated" their admittedly "intense" feelings for each other.
Similarly, if not as salaciously, Nowhere Boy hints that John's lifelong friendship with boyhood pal Pete Shotton (played by newcomer Josh Bolt) contained some degree of sexual attraction. Lennon reportedly often referred to himself and Pete as "The Terrible Twins." At one point in the movie, Pete mentions nonchalantly to John that he wished he had breasts like a girl so the two of them could mess around.
The film's script was written by Matt Greenhalgh, who is apparently becoming the go-to screenwriter for films about musicians after penning 2007's Control, the award-winning expose of the band Joy Division. His screenplay for Nowhere Boy is a bit by-the-numbers and sketchy at times, especially when dealing with Julia's mental and relational instability. Sam Taylor-Wood, a protégé of the late writer-director Anthony Minghella, does an admirable job with her feature film debut and draws great, emotionally expressive performances from the cast.
Of course, John Lennon is most remembered for his music and often philosophical lyrics, including such songs as "Imagine," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Give Peace a Chance." Nowhere Boy certainly doesn't do or depict anything that diminishes their enduring power or Lennon's ongoing influence.
Reverend's Rating: B
UPDATE: Nowhere Boy is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.