Review: Nowhere Boy


It’s hard to make a film about someone as legendary and iconic as John Lennon. How do you avoid seeming like you’re simply gushing all over him or cashing in on his name? How do you keep things grounded and real when you’re talking about someone who in many people’s minds has been elevated above a normal human being? Bio films on subjects as iconic on Lennon are really tough to make and make well, but Nowhere Boy manages to take your expectations for a film like this and flip them around, producing a movie that is interesting beyond its famous character and grounded enough to feel real instead of contrived.

The first and most obvious way the film does this is by keeping the story about John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) and not about The Beatles. The film only documents Lennon’s teenage years, in which he found his real mother, Julia (Anne Marie Duffy) after living with his aunt, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and uncle his entire life. To explain the whys of this would be to give away the film’s narrative push, but it sets up a tense family dynamic in which Mimi resents and dislikes her sister and John is torn between the two of them – the fun loving Julia or the stern, but caring Mimi.

Obviously John starts a band (to get girls) during these years, but The Beatles themselves are not mentioned once during the entire film – not even as a sly joke. Even John and Paul McCartney’s (played very well by quickly growing Thomas Sangster, who is shedding his adorable childhood for teenage uncomfortablness) faithful meeting is toned down. There’s a knowing pause and acknowledgment that this is an important moment, but director Sam Taylore-Wood lets the audience realize that and lets the movie move on with its own story. It makes the focus of the film Lennon the person and not Lennon the icon. We all know where the rest of his life is going anyway, so not hammering home the iconic Lennon works wonderfully.

The film’s actual focus is on the relationship between Lennon and the women in his life, Mimi and Julia. The triangle between the three of them is constructed at a fantastic clip and Lennon’s ever growing issues between his mother and aunt build to a head that makes you forget this is John Lennon and think of him only as a conflicted youth. Thankfully, burying the icon status of Lennon does not make him any less interesting, and this is because the story is not just about him. The inclusion of Mimi and Julia as the main thrust of the film is one of the best decisions I have ever seen in a biopic make.

There are a few complaints here and there, especially with the film’s pacing. It often feels unclear how much time has gone by, and it makes the growth of relationships in the feel a bit forced. However, the cast does such a wonderful job of creating emotions that it’s hard to not get drawn in anyway. Except for a few misses by Duffy, there are some seriously flawless performances in this film. This is especially true for Johnson, who doesn’t exactly have a striking resemblance to Lennon, but absolutely nails who Lennon was.

What Nowhere Boy proves is that a person is far more interesting than an icon. While an icon might be the better known figure, the person behind it is where that icon came from. Nowhere Boy tells the story of the person who was John Lennon before he became the icon that is John Lennon, and it’s much, much better for it.

Overall Score: 8.25 – Great (Movies that score between 8.00 and 8.50 are great representations of their genre that everyone should see in theaters on opening night.)

Nowhere Boy takes the icon of John Lennon and makes him into the person John Lennon, an impressive feat for a film about an icon, but even moreso here, where things could have eaily gone off track.

Toby Jones

Overall Score: 6.20 — Misleadingly billed as a John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy would be more accurately titled “The Untold Story of John Lennon’s Mother and Aunt”. If that sounds interesting to you, then have at it. Read his full review here.

Siobhan Watters

Overall Score: 7.35 — Fans of music biopics won’t be disappointed by Sam Taylor-Woods version of a teenage John Lennon. The melodrama in Nowhere Boy is forced a times, but otherwise remains as effortlessly cool as its subject. Read her full review here.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.