TCFF Day 2: Nowhere Boy Review

The Twin Cities Film Fest continues!

I didn’t sign up to volunteer Wednesday night, so right after work, hubby and I headed downtown to see the John Lennon childhood biopic Nowhere Boy. Playing at the same time on AMC Theater 1 was Phasma Ex Machina, which was attended by its director Matt Osterman. Machina is Osterman’s feature film debut, the film explores the gray area between life and death and how science may be the bridge between the two. From the film’s official blog, we’ve got a quick snippet from the Star Tribune’s film critic Colin Covert who had some real nice things to say about it: “Stephen King would love “Phasma Ex Machina” (“The Ghost in the Machine”). This sharply intelligent Minnesota-made sci-fi drama centers on a young technical savant and the device he builds to enable his late parents’ spirits to return home. Unaware that they have passed, several ghosts enter into complicated emotional and ethical relationships with the orphans and widowers they left behind. Writer-director Matt Osterman neatly combines creepy effects with understated details (the tinkerer gets most of his apparatus from the Ax Man). A few inconsequential rough edges aside, this is a winner.

Check out the trailer from the official TCFF page, definitely something worth checking out once it’s out on dvd.

Nowhere Boy


I was pretty excited to see Nowhere Boy. Partly because I was intrigued by the story of music legend John Lennon, as we both share an unconventional upbringing without a father and inconsistent presence of our real mother. The other reason was Aaron Johnson, who impressed me in Kick-Ass that I pretty much wanted to see everything else he’s in from now on. I had no idea he was in The Illusionist until my friend Ted pointed out to me afterward, apparently he played the young version of Ed Norton’s character in the flashback scenes. In any case, I don’t know if this movie ever played here in the Cities, as it was released late last year in the UK.

Well, the film—and Aaron—definitely didn’t disappoint, even the slight projector snafu at the beginning of the film didn’t dampen the great experience of watching this movie. I’ve done a bit of research about the movie to know this isn’t a Beatles biopic, and though there were scenes of the teenage John and Paul McCartney playing music together, this is really a story about John’s childhood (roughly from 15-18 years old) when he was living with his aunt Mimi, played brilliantly by the always-reliable Kristin Scott Thomas.

John with Mimi and with his real mother Julia

The movie focuses on the ‘nowhere boy’ who’s lost as to where he really belongs. Mimi is so strict and seemingly devoid of emotion, though in the course of the movie you realize the opposite is true. Contrast that with the character of John’s real mother, the bohemian and tempestuous Julia who seems like the ‘perfect’ mother. She didn’t mind that John was suspended from school, instead she took him to an amusement park, introduce him to music and dance, basically living the good life, homework and responsibilities be darned. Now, what kid wouldn’t want to have a mother like that? Plus, Julia seemed to be the perfect ‘substitute’ for the jovial uncle George whom he was closest to.

Sam Taylor-Wood & Aaron Johnson

First-time director Sam Taylor-Wood depicted the opposite personalities with aptitude, and as the audience we can’t help but sympathize with both characters despite their flaws. The only thing that made me uneasy at times is the way Taylor-Wood filmed the scenes between Julia and John. If I had just come into the movie blind without knowing what the movie is about, I’d think that Julia was John’s cougar lover and not his mother! Especially the part when she laid down on her back on top of John in the couch, there was definitely that creepy Oedipus complex thing going on. I’m sure I’m not the only one as my hubby thought the same thing!

All around performances are terrific, especially Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia (a bit of trivia, Duff is James McAvoy’s real-life wife). They portrayed such complex characters with finesse and effortlessness, making them much more than one-dimensional roles. But the movie truly belongs to Aaron Johnson, who carries this movie with his melancholic blue eyes and endearing swagger. Taylor-Wood shot so many dreamy close-up shots of the then 19-year-old it could equal a personal home video 😉 Johnson’s definitely got movie star quality, he possesses the kind of screen presence so magnetic it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. I can’t judge whether he delivered an accurate portrayal of Lennon as I don’t really follow the singer’s career. For that I turn to my pal Becky who’s a huge Beatle fan:

Ok, so keep in mind these thoughts about Nowhere Boy are coming from someone who’s favorite Beatle was John Lennon, seen a Hard Day’s Night over and over (see it if you haven’t), and it was just five years after the movie ends when I was scream ing for the Beatles like the Elvis fans were screaming for him just like the scene in the movie (I was 10.) I really was looking forward to seeing this time in John’s life because I had heard he was raised by an aunt, but that’s really all I knew. The film fills in all the blanks.
I was totally blown away by Aaron Johnson’s performance of John. He so resembled him in looks, speech, body language and attitude that he is in the same league as Jamie Foxx (Ray), Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash in Walk the Line) and Will Smith (Ali). I’m afraid he won’t get the same kind of recognition, but certainly deserves it for his role here.
And at the very end of the film, a caption said that John didn’t forget to call his Aunt Mimi from Hamburg, and called her every week for the rest of HIS life. And after seeing this film, I truly believed he really did.

As I talked to a few people after the movie’s done, everyone unanimously praised this movie. Lennon definitely has a story worth-telling and it’s nice to learn how the boy became the legend he’s known today. My colleague Laura’s boyfriend Marcus regards the movie “emotionally exhilarating… just like Lennon’s music.” Here’s a quick snippet of his ‘review’: Joy, sadness, sympathy, humor were just some of the emotions you will feel from the beginning of the film to it’s end. It’s amazing that John Lennon was such an advocate of peace when he experienced so much sadness  Whether you’re a music fan, a Beatle fan or a film buff, you will enjoy the untold visualization of John Lennon. This movie is a must see!

Indeed, I’m glad TCFF screens this one as this movie was totally worth going to the cinema for!

Have you seen Nowhere Boy? What did you think of the movie?

8 thoughts on “TCFF Day 2: Nowhere Boy Review

  1. To be honest while i didn’t have a problem with Aarons performance in Kick-ass i don’t think it impressed me enough to where he can make me check out a movie. I will most likely end up seeing this when it comes out on dvd

  2. PrairieGirl

    Very spot-on review. It was fascinating to see John’s relationships with both his aunt and mother. Love these early photos:

    1. Thanks for linking those pics, Becky, Aaron doesn’t look like John at all, does he? Especially the eyes. But the makeup people did a good job so at least he resembled him a bit.

  3. I don’t know much about this film or the subject matter, but it’s interesting that you were interpreting a somewhat Oedipal feel to scenes between Lennon and his mother … were you aware that Aaron Johnson and Sam Taylor-Wood are in a (rather controversial, obviously) relationship? It apparently started after they met on this project, but that’s still kind of an interesting bleed-over, maybe…

    1. Oh yeah I knew about that, I was about to include that in the review but probably got omitted somehow. I think they have a baby together now. When I saw pics of them together at premieres I thought how sweet of Aaron to keep bringing his mother along, turns out she was his lover!! Yeah it’s possible there’s a bleed-over, though it’s also possible that given the circumstances and timing of when the real Lennon first met his mother, he might’ve been slightly infatuated by his own mother who’s like a stranger to him.

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