I will count Nowhere Boy as one of my favourite musician bio-pics, even if John Lennon doesn't actually count as my favourite Beatle. Set during his teenage years when he's still a student and a lousy one at that, this film by Sam Taylor-Wood takes a look at his influences, the early years in the formation of his band before the Beatles with Paul (Thomas Sangster) and George (Sam Bell) already onboard, and of the two important women in his life, his mom Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) where the latter had taken on parental responsibilities.
First, the music. Don't expect to listen to any Beatles classics because John Lennon still hasn't found his calling yet in the story, ending just about the time the Liverpool boys are going to head to Hamburg, and the rest, as they say, is history. Instead, there are a lot more other classics that get their air time here that you'd find yourself tapping your feet to, and defines the era that once was, before Beatlemania swept the world with their brand of music to define a new generation. And who would have thought, as the film suggested, that John will be influenced by Elvis Presley because his interest got piqued when a legion of female fans packed in a theatre were swooning and openly gushing their adoration for him.
So begins his quest toward learning how to play, starting with the banjo courtesy of suspension from school and lessons from his mom. As mentioned, the film splits time in defining who John Lennon was in his teenage years, and exploring the relationships he had with his mom and aunt. With his mom, it's all about fun, and her introduction of rock and roll to him, and the kind of connotations that that brand of music gets associated with, which naturally will interest any teenage boy should you tell them that. However, this is very much a love hate relationship, as there's spectre of gloom hanging over their rekindle of relations, especially when John has to learn the truth behind and come to terms with why he's actually living with his aunt Mimi all along.
With Mimi it was almost the exact opposite in how time flies when with his mom. It's more rigid and strict, with her expectations more set toward him doing well in school than to wander off pursuing some crazy dream. But that doesn't mean she's not supportive, but does so at her own time, in her own way, which frustrates John as he cannot see past Mimi's stoic demeanour. Both Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas were excellent in contrasting themselves to set up an inevitable clash that is powerful and stinging, but blood always runs thicker than water, despite how the new found happiness would be cut short.
And who would have thought that Aaron Johnson, who got his ass kicked most of the time in Kick Ass, would actually kick serious ass here with his portrayal of one of the most iconic musical legends of all time. He brings about that aura of a musical god who's just beginning to get hold of his roots, in establishing who he is and what he stands for, and in some ways, prove to be quite the dead ringer from certian angles. With the cast members lending their singing voices here, Johnson provides ample aural pleasure with his crooning, that flair of arrogance and what I thought was a very fine and subtle touch in suggesting some serious competition with Paul very early on in their collaboration.
Nowhere Boy is a fictional dramatization of the growing up years of JOhn Lennon, but has plenty of positives from the songs to cast delivering their roles with aplomb that made this a delight to sit through. Most definitely highly recommended, and goes into my shortlist for one of the best this year.