There is no shortage of John Lennon on celluloid. There are five official Beatles movies, documentaries like “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” a 2006 movie that focuses on Lennon’s transformation from musician into antiwar activist, and even experimental short films like the John and Yoko shorts like “Two Virgins” and “Apotheosis.” He’s been portrayed by everyone from Paul Rudd (in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) to Monty Python’s Eric Idle but rarely has any actor captured both Lennon’s rebelliousness and vulnerability as Aaron Johnson does in “Nowhere Boy.”
The coming-of-age-story of one of the most famous people of the twentieth century, “Nowhere Boy” examines Lennon’s relationship with his estranged mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), the woman who raised him. For the first time on film we see the effect the combustible combination of women had on his life. His mother’s ready! steady! go! lifestyle helping to form his rock ‘n’ roll side, while Aunt Mimi’s more slow and steady influence brought out John’s sensitive, artistic side.
“Nowhere Boy” is a fascinating character study that reveals the formative years of a complicated man. Aaron Johnson, who was eighteen at the time, succeeds because he doesn’t try to imitate Lennon, instead he plays a young, confused man who is on the cusp of growing up. Sure, the distinctive Liverpool accent is there as are the right period details, but it’s what is beyond those crutches that make this performance, as they said in “Yellow Submarine,” “a tickle of joy on the belly the universe.”
First time director Sam Taylor-Wood gets the muddled mix of excitement, testosterone and disappointment Lennon felt on an almost daily basis just right, and in the process has made one of the best Beatle bios to date.