Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nowhere Boy Movie Review

I’m much more into movies than I am into music. Sure, there are some individual songs I enjoy, but there aren’t bands or singers that I am particularly a fan of. The exception is The Beatles; they’ve done more individual songs that I like than any other music group I can think of. So, when I heard about Nowhere Boy (2010), I was excited to see a movie about the formation of the one band I can honestly say I’m a fan of. I haven’t been this let down by a movie since I saw the 2003 Hulk that everyone tries to pretend didn’t happen.
Young John (Alex Ambrose) is a bright, but sharp-tongued boy living in the coastal town of Liverpool during the 1950’s with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall). John’s father walked out on the family when he was five years old and he was given to Mimi to be raised, even though his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) was still alive. While Mimi’s strait-laced nature runs counter to John’s more reckless personality, they still love one another. Their world is turned upside down when George passes away. After the funeral, John meets his mother for the first time since he was a small boy. Her bubbly personality is more in line with John’s and she encourages his love of music and writing. But the renewed relationship with Julia brings up a number of unanswered questions, causing tension between Mimi and John. As Rock & Roll becomes the sound of the day, John falls in love with the bold new music and makes a friend who is interested in forming a band, Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster).
Nowhere Boy features kind of a parental love triangle between John and the two dominant women in the first part of his life. It’s not a sexual thing, by any means. John is torn between Mimi who has exercised tough-love and acted in John’s best interest, and Julia who is an affectionate and empowering figure but can’t offer John the stability he craves. I was expecting a delightful movie about the formation of The Beatles, about events that inspired John’s marvelous lyrics and music, his struggle to get recognized, perhaps events that instigated his philosophy of peace and love, and the sparks that came from John and Paul as their talents resonated with one another. That is the sort of thing the trailer promised, after all. Even the movie poster alludes to that sort of a tale. But Nowhere Boy is more about a rebellious, foulmouthed, lascivious teenager in the 1950’s growing up in a broken, dysfunctional family and dreaming of being wanted by millions of women the way Elvis was. Certainly, every famous figure has to start somewhere and eventually become the person they are known for, but by the end of the movie I didn’t like this version of John Lennon any more than I like any other presumptuous and rude teenager I might run into on the street.
The fact that the movie differs so much from my expectations isn’t what made it bad. Because of all the interpersonal conflicts between family members and friends, Nowhere Boy seemed more like a well filmed and acted soap opera. Yes, Ambrose played a great John Lennon. Thomas did an excellent job playing his loving, but rigid aunt; it’s hard enough to show tough-love to a child, but I imagine it’s even more difficult to act it out. The sets were fantastic, and lots of the movie was shot on location in Liverpool. But for all the good acting, sets, and decent filming, the movie itself was painfully melodramatic.
The name “The Beatles” is never actually mentioned in Nowhere Boy. There are some allusions to The Beatles, but they’re so subtle that they are easy to miss. The movie opens with a dream sequence of John running from unseen screaming fan girls which is similar to the opening scene in The Beatles’ first movie A Hard Day’s Night. John rides his bike to school and passes a sign that reads “Strawberry Fields.” That’s about it, and they happen within the first five minutes of the movie. There’s no Beatles music in Nowhere Boy, but there is a lot of 50’s Rock & Roll music that John fell in love with; Elvis, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Dickie Valentine to name a few.
With all the melodrama and gratuitous unjustified profanity, Nowhere Boy was not a pleasant movie to watch. It was all about uncomfortable family drama that was interrupted by brief moments of John’s interest in forming a band so that more women would want to sleep with him. It’s those fleeting moments in the movie that we’re reminded that this is a movie about John Lennon, and not just some insufferably difficult teenage douche bag. Both the real Paul McCartney and Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, said that the real John was much more loving than the angst-ridden teenage rebel in this movie. You might enjoy Nowhere Boy if you really like John Lennon and don’t mind seeing an unflattering depiction of him. I don’t recommend seeing Nowhere Boy. Neither the story nor the characters were engaging enough to keep me interested; I teetered between sticking it out and just shutting the movie off.

If you could have a really good movie made about a famous musician, who would it be? Frankly, I’d like to see a good movie about John Lennon sometime. Apart from that, I think a movie about Queen would be both messed up and fun. Who would you pick? Comment below and tell me why!

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