I can’t say I envy any filmmaker trying to take on a story about The Beatles. The Fab Four, more than any other group, still have fans that cherish their music and spend countless time and money on learning everything they can about the lads from Liverpool. So when you set out to make a movie about a very specific time in one band member’s life, you’re fighting against the entire history of the band. NOWHERE BOY has attempted to tell the early story of John Lennon and focus on his relationship with his mother and aunt. Unfortunately, director Sam Taylor Wood has made some fatal flaws in her film that made it tough to get through.
The first mistake is with Aaron Johnson, whose chiseled good looks and refined features prevent him from looking anything like John Lennon. I could easily look past those physical differences if he had managed to capture the essence of John Lennon with his acting, but aside from the name, I couldn’t tell this character was Lennon. John Lennon was a bit of a rebellious youth, but also had that “tortured poet” stigma to him that Johnson really struggled to portray. As it started to come out later in the film (after he met Paul McCartney), it felt forced and unnatural.
As we saw in the film, Lennon went through a tough time as he came to terms with the knowledge that his mother had to give him up and he was raised by his aunt. To make matters worse, he learned his mom was living right down the street this whole time. Clearly a traumatic experience for any 17 year-old, the filmmakers didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Although I could tell Lennon was upset, we never saw him deal with the anger and pain. He would yell and bark at his aunt one minute, then dream of starting a band the next. It’s almost as if there were two separate films spliced together; one a BACKBEAT (a much better telling of the early days of the Beatles) and the other a drama with Lennon getting to know his mother.
When he finally did meet Paul McCartney, they jumped way too fast into establishing a little jealousy between him and Paul. That was a festering, growing problem between the two, not something that was established the day they met. And the casting of Thomas Sangster as Paul McCartney was distracting given how much younger he looked than Aaron Johnson. While the real Lennon and McCartney were separated by a couple of years, these two looked like there was about a 5-10 year age difference. Again, it’s superficial, but when you’re dealing with The Beatles, it’s important that the actors at least look the part.
Even if I could accept the miscasting, I couldn’t get past the fact that the movie failed to connect the audience to the characters on the screen. The story of Lennon and his mother/aunt relationship was so poorly told that it was hard to remain interested. Then when tragedy hit, instead of bringing the audience to tears, it hit with a giant thud and felt very anticlimactic. And it didn’t help that they completely flubbed every scene with John, Paul and George. I know the world is starved for a decent film about one or all of The Beatles, but this is not that film.