Nowhere Boy at the Enzian

By Samir Mathur
Contributing writer
Staff page

Nowhere Boy plays at the Enzian starting this Friday (10/29). For showtimes/tickets, go here.

Just so we’re clear right from the start, ‘Nowhere Boy’ is a film about John Lennon. The B-word doesn’t appear in the film at all, although we do see Lennon’s first meetings with McCartney and Harrison. Luckily, these encounters aren’t portrayed as historically significant Eureka moments, but rather, the way it is when teenage boys meet each other: awkward and standoffish.

As someone who – whisper it – is not much of a Beatles fan, that suited me just fine. Apart from some tiny details – walking past Strawberry Fields, sketching a walrus in a notebook, the opening note of ‘Hard Day’s Night’ – there are no explicit references to the band that would change the world. This is the tale of Lennon as a high schooler who lives with his stern-but-loving aunt, but one day reconnects with his mum, who introduces him to rock and roll.

This is a very, very British film. Not just for the obvious reason that it’s set in Liverpool in the 1950s, but also in terms of its look, pacing and tone. Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as Aunt Mimi, John’s de facto caretaker who carries herself with the dignity and stiff-upper lip that are associated with Brits of that era. Even when her husband dies early on, she remains stoic and just says “Let’s get on with it.” John’s mum, Julia, is played by Anne-Marie Duff who does very well to balance the joy of reconnecting with her son and introducing him to the exciting new world of American music, with the sadness of having lost her son to begin with. Aaron Johnson, most recently seen in Kick-Ass, does a solid job as the young Lennon. He’s got the right sense of mischief, combined with teenage angst and the desires to (a) rebel against authority and (b) pick up chicks.

The love triangle/tug-of-war between Lennon, his mum and his aunt, forms the emotional crux of this story, and is more the focus than the music itself. As a result, the few scenes where John is having fun with his mates, or starting his first band, or just being a teenager, are all the more exciting. I wish there had been more of those moments; they broke the overarching emotional heaviness nicely. The big final showdown/scene of catharsis feels rather stagey and was the weak part of an otherwise good piece of work.

Like 2007’s Ian Curtis biopic ‘Control’, this music origin story was penned by Matt Greenhalgh and directed by a first-timer from the art world. Here, it’s Sam Taylor-Wood, whose direction is surprisingly straightforward for such an avant-garde artist. There are some trippy flash-back sequences, but other than that, it’s all played pretty conventionally, which is very welcome. I think you’ll enjoy the film a lot more if you’re a Beatles fan, but if not, there’s still an interesting story in here that is worth checking out.