I even like the title. Instead of “Nowhere Man”, it’s “Nowhere Boy” because we’re dealing with young John Lennon.
Aaron Johnson played John. The director said you have a choice: either get someone who looks so much like Lennon it hurts or get someone who can act. The right choice was to go with someone who could act. As the historian said, he embodied Lennon. It was the idea of Lennon, the spirit and image in a new vessel, and it was fully developed. Johnson didn’t want to do an impression or impersonation. We as audience members were able to fill in the rest. While you’re watching, it’s like catching an image out of the corner of your eye, makes you do a double take. When he’s performing at the church, all of a sudden it’s Lennon. Maybe it’s because we know how the story ends; not just this chapter, but decades later we know how the story ends.
I liked it because it worked on so many levels: explaining Lennon, showing the birth of the Beatles, and a young man who is caught in a triangle and not sure what to do. As a John Lennon story, we know what happens when he grows up (heck, we know what happens a couple of months late to him and why he’s significant). You can watch newsreels and concert footage. John has quick comebacks. He sits there with a faint smile, just waiting for someone to walk into it. You can watch “Nowhere Boy” and say that makes sense now. It adds a little insight. (You can also read a biography or an autobiography, but a character narrative that is well done is fun too.) Like many people, he was told he was a waste of space and not going anywhere…and like the many people who are told that, he went a couple of places.
Watching the birth of the Beatles is fun. When Paul McCartney is introduced to John after the church performance we know they’re going to hang out more than once. When they meet this kid George Harrison who’s “all right” with a guitar, I can imagine some people just vibrating, shifting in their seats. It’s fun seeing George not taking John’s cracks but dishing them right back to him. There’s no Ringo yet.
I like stories that are not necessarily dramatic ironies, of we know who they are and what they become, but backgrounds. I’m interested in people who grew up with people who become famous. In the movie, they were just people’s classmates. They were class clowns, that kid whose mother died last year, that kid who plays guitar (but what teenager doesn’t attempt guitar at least once?).
The triangle between John, his Aunt Mimi, and his mother is fascinating. The director said it can be just a story about a young man who is caught between these two women and not sure what to do. Absolutely. It is very confusing and tense (and lends a lot to why John was John). A young man, regardless of who he becomes, is living with his aunt who raises him with a firm hand. He learns his mother lives literally around the corner. Why would she be that close and never have contact? When he does contact her, it gets more awkward. She drapes herself over him, kisses him, it’s that loving that’s almost incestuous. Very awkward. He’s torn between two women who want the best for him but want it different ways; one with decorum (you didn’t do what you said you would, I take away your guitar), one with love and music.
John finally learns the aunt took him when his mother and his father asked him who he would rather be with. He was a mighty 5 years old and had been spending time with dad. When his mom leaves, like the little kid, he is he goes after mom. It’s a great scene in the movie where it reverses everything you thought and makes you rethink everything you’ve seen. Mimi makes sense; why she was so strict, why she didn’t want any contact with his mom. The mom makes sense. She’s not well and not the best mom, but she feels guilty and wants to make it up to him. John is a teenage boy who just heard what happened for the first time. He is literally in limbo, in the middle of the room between the two women. That’s hard for anyone to hear. Little kids don’t know what they want for breakfast much less who they want to live with.
Back to the Lennon story, this was after he met Paul, they’re playing together, but before Hamburg. There are a couple of things going on.
When things start to work, the sisters are talking to each other, John’s feeling a minor sense of stability and freedom, his mother is taken from him permanently. She’s hit by a car. John spins out only to be reined in by Paul. He bonds with Mimi in a way that shapes the rest of his life.
The movie ends with him and his new band, “whatever their name is” Mimi says, going to Hamburg, Germany. We know who they are. She asks him to call her when he gets there, only once. The script at the end says he did and he called her once a week for the rest of his life.
Love or loathe John Lennon, he was complex as we all are. Maybe that’s why so many loved him. If you want a movie that works on many levels, look up “Nowhere Boy”.