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Nowhere Boy

Lennon's Formative Years

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Despite his untimely death 30 years this December, fascination with Beatles co-founder John Lennon has never waned. Released stateside to coincide with Lennonís birthday (October 8th), writer Matt Greenhalgh and director Sam Taylor-Woodís Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, finally reaches North American movie theaters ten months after itís UK premiered and nine months after its U.S. debut at the Sundance Film Festival.

Nowhere Boy focuses on Lennonís (Aaron Johnson) formative years, taking him from high school through the formation of his first band through the (offscreen) formation of the Beatles, and the Beatles first tour (again offscreen) outside of England. The real focus, however, is on Lennonís troubled relationship with the aunt, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), who raised him, and his mother, Julia Lennon (Anne-Marie Duff), who re-entered his life in his teens.

A mediocre student with a rebellious nature, Lennon periodically gets in trouble with the schoolís authorities, receiving corporal punishment and, on one occasion, a lengthy suspension from school.

The premature passing of Lennonís uncle and Mimiís husband, George (David Threlfall), the beloved patriarch to Mimiís authoritarian matriarch, compels Lennon to find his biological mother. Heís surprised to discover that she lives nearby, and is a housewife, a mother of two ó Lennonís half-sisters, Julia (Angelica Jopling) and Jackie (Abby Greenhalgh) ó married to Bobby (David Morrissey).

Wary at first, Lennon warms to the unconventional Julia, especially when she gives him banjo lessons and teaches him Fats Domino's ďAin't That a Shame.Ē Lennonís reunion with his mother reignites a rivalry between the sisters, even as Lennon forms his first band, the Quarrymen, and befriends a fifteen-year-old Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster), who joins the band.

Nowhere Boy reduces Lennonís formative years to a struggle between the two maternal figures in his life, his strict aunt and his flighty mother. The film suggests that Lennon inherited his musical talent from his biological mother, but offers little else besides the ubiquitous presence of American rock íní roll (e.g., Elvis Presley), on impressionable, young rockers like Lennon and McCartney, who would take the music and make it their own.

Whether you buy that Greenhalgh (with an uncredited assist from a memoir written by Lennonís half sister Julia Baird) and Taylor-Woodís psychological portrait of John Lennon, Nowhere Boy benefits immensely from Aaron Johnsonís (Kick-Ass) performance as the pre-fame Lennon. Johnsonís modest physical resemblance to Lennon helps, but itís Johnsonís emotive range and depth that sells the performance. To Johnsonís credit, his performance never feels gimmicky or imitative, but instead feels genuine and authentic. Unsurprisingly, veteran actresses Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff as Lennonís aunt and mother, respectively, also give strong, memorable performances.