Nowhere Boy review

Visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood delivers a run-of-the-mill biopic of John Lennon’s early anguished pre-Band years in a glossy 1950s Liverpool, but with some potentially promising new talent.

Nick James
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Nowhere Boy (2009)

Strange as it may seem that a fine artist of reputation should want to make a mainstream biopic, that is what Sam Taylor-Wood has done with Nowhere Boy, which sits indeterminately somewhere in the territory between the handsome dash of Walk the Line and the sociological grit of Control. The early years of John Lennon, framed as tug-of-love between his aunt Mimi and mother Julia, and covering the period up the formation of The Band That Cannot Be Named (for financial reasons), here become a vehicle for the charismatic angst of young star Aaron Johnson in a very tidy, chic and shiny 1950s Liverpool.

Lennon is given many opportunities to express the agony of genius tortured by unreliable sources of love and by a mother given to flirting with his teenage pals. The acting all round is pretty good, especially from Kristen Scott-Thomas as Mimi and Anne Marie Duff as Julia, but the story itself is given to a sense of drift, as if the film itself doesn’t know any better than Lennon what it wants.

The music and clothing are evocative if a little cleaned up, and it’s good on the details of being young and in bands, yet at the same time it is a touch sweeter than boys in bands might like. It will be interesting to see if it makes a huge star out of Aaron Johnson.

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