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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 8, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 41
Nowhere Boy: Fascinating women on screen and off
Arts & Entertainment
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Nowhere Boy: Fascinating women on screen and off

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Nowhere Boy
Opening October 8
You are going to hear a number of things about the new John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy. You are going to hear that Aaron Johnson is gorgeous and that he can act. You are going to hear that Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff turn in notable performances as the two most important women in Lennon's pre-Beatles life. And you are going to hear lascivious stories about a 40-something woman director nailing her hot 19-year-old male star. It's all true.

Director Sam Taylor-Wood is a lucky lady, indeed. As has been said many times before, "There ain't no flies on that boy." Actually, though I'm envious of her dalliance, I'm reticent to cast her relationship with young Master Johnson in a tawdry light. First, Taylor-Wood is an award-winning and established video/photo artist who's had numerous group and solo exhibitions all over the world. This type of thing should be expected. That's how artists, uh, roll. Second, the couple is engaged to be married, and since we know how seriously breeders take marriage, this must be, uh, serious. Third, they had a baby girl, Wylda Rae, together on July 7 so obviously this wasn't about the, uh, sex; this was about procreation.

Enough of all the silliness. Taylor-Wood proves she's got the chops to direct a solid feature film. As expected, the photography is beautiful. The movie is, much like its lead actor, quite handsome. The narrative unfolds confidently, the music feels organically enmeshed with the story (largely because it was), and the period art direction is spot-on. Taylor-Wood proves her eye for detail translates easily from her individual work to a more collaborative type of filmmaking. She is one to watch.

This is a terrific film. Still, the story is pure family melodrama. Taylor-Wood keeps things moving nicely through the first two-thirds of the film, but the final act gets a bit bogged down at times. The problem is that it's simply more fun to watch Lennon find freedom, girls, music, and his mummy than it is watching him sort out tragedies and face adulthood. It is melodrama, after all, and I can't help feeling that if this film hadn't been based on the life of a music icon, I'm not sure how much I'd care. However, it is based on the life of a music icon, so I do.

The three leads turn in superb performances. Johnson, who I loved as the high school vigilante superhero with no actual superhero powers in the kick-ass summer flick Kick-Ass, rocks the screen again as the complicated orphan boy from Liverpool who would become an icon. Johnson channels Lennon without slipping into impersonation. He captures the odd mix of swagger, intellect, hubris, folly, innocence, and earnest empathy that was John Lennon and he makes it look easy (I'm fairly certain it wasn't).

Kristin Scott Thomas made her feature film debut in Prince's 1986 narcifest Under the Cherry Moon (hey, I couldn't make that up if I tried). She has since consistently found better material. Thomas is a cinema treasure and works the screen like mad as Lennon's buttoned-down Aunt Mimi, the steely-eyed mother of empire who raised Lennon. Mimi, too, is a complicated character who makes you want to shake her out of her British-ness. But Mimi is a woman of duty, a Brit through and through who believes houses should have names and music should have numbers.

Anne-Marie Duff is also terrific as another complicated character, Julia, Lennon's troubled biological mother. The last piece in the maternal triangle is a woman decidedly less tightly wound than her sister, Mimi. She serves as Lennon's muse and a major source of his bewilderment. Duff captures the nuance of a woman who's made some tough choices and turns a character that could have easily been overly simplified and vilified into a quasi-Byronic antihero who I couldn't help cheering for.

And what gives? Duff is married to another handsome young British heartthrob, James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland). However, the nine years Duff has on her pretty paramour pales in comparison to Taylor-Wood's 23-year lead on young Master Johnson. I only have one thing to say to Duff and Taylor-Wood: Cheers, ladies!

Finally, check out the pix of Aaron Johnson on the internet in his Calvin Klein tighty-whities. It's now my desktop background. At least he's not wasting his considerable gifts on some 19-year-old co-ed who wouldn't appreciate those gifts until she was, uh, 40-something.

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