There is not a moment in Nowhere Boy when director Sam Taylor-Wood displays anything less than the utmost respect for her subject. A not-so-much biopic as examination of John Lennon’s formative years, leading up to the time just before he went to Hamburg with what would become The Beatles takes the grueling childhood of its star and spins it into drama. ‘Oh,’ it purports, ‘the poor boy! The trials he faced wedged between two mother figures and with no father in his life!’ It almost plays like an answer to Lennon’s own song “Mother,” which plays over the end credits: “Mother, you had me, but I never had you.”
Times are tough for young Lennon. Or, so the film would have you believe. Here’s what Lennon himself had to say about his childhood: “This image of me being an orphan is garbage, because I was well protected by my auntie and uncle and they looked after me very well, thanks.” Taylor-Wood’s film is a pretty impressive accomplishment, a good introduction to those unfamiliar with one of the greatest and most prominent figures of the 20th Century. The central casting, in particular, falls just short of perfect. It strives harder than most for authenticity, both to its subject and its period. It also still trips up on the pratfalls of its genre: scrubbing up the key moments for drama points, and tending to re-arrange the life of its subject in order to fit director’s / screenwriter’s sanctimonious view.