Lennon: The Degrassi Years
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Kristen Scott Thomas
By Robert Patrick
“Nowhere Boy” is unique in the fact that, while wholly accessible and about an interesting entity, it doesn’t necessarily need to be made. I know, you’re confused as to why a movie about the bespectacled poet laureate John Lennon doesn’t need to be made. The guy is a demigod! His face is interchangeable with the peace sign. These days a freehand representation of his mug, scribbled down with loose, broad strokes, often finds its way onto perspiring ice cream cartons and Google art. The only person whose face is branded onto more products is that of Che Guevara, the less successful “give peace a chance” revolutionary. Never mind, The Beatles fan base is so big it has a fan base of its own. Every other week there is a remastered edition of “The White Album” being slung from the press – this time with four extra essays, in a neat booklet, written by Quincy Jones or another famous admirer. At this point, instead of kids getting sparkly stickers they get “Ringo” stars on their homework. The whole circus will never leave town, it will instead beget more clowns and high wire acts.
“Nowhere Boy” concentrates on John’s early life, spent with his rigid aunt, while also addressing his skewed relationship with his mother. Aaron Johnson, who plays Lennon, sports a dewy resemblance to the fallen rock God. The snuffled voice, when Lennon wanted to sound passive aggressive, comes out nicely in the portrayal. And while stateside viewers wont differentiate an English accent from another English accent (they’re all curling their syllables, I say!) Johnson really does a fine job of getting some of the vocal intricacies down. Most of the movie, as the synopsis suggests, is spent with the obligatory teenage imbroglios that less lucky kids deal with. This version of Lennon isn’t quite a messiah or a rock star yet, but he is, above all else, a teenager, which is, in some ways, all of the aforementioned titles and more. Lennon gets the girl, throws wily punches at hooligans, listens to rock music like a dissident young lad.
The exercise is sort of fun, but loses flavor fast, sort of like a stick of bubble gum that has been floating like a buoy in your mouth for an extended period of time. You see interesting things happen to John, but they never feel, though obviously important, entertaining or thought inducing. Meeting up with George Harrison is regulated to having one conversational exchange on a bus. And Paul McCartney, in this film, has the personality of a dying ox (accurate portrayal?). Anyway you cut it, director Sam Taylor-Wood doesn’t have the hubris necessary to make a picture about Lennon. This picture feels neutered. Leaving the theater, you have a distinct feeling that you saw something, that existed in a quick moment, but you suddenly passed it by with the same disinterested thumbing that an advertisement in a magazine would behest.
So far, as an audience, we’ve seen movies about the prelude of his career (“Nowhere Boy”) and the prologue of his career (“Chapter 27”) – neither have been good. I would recommend that someone fill in that incredulous middle gap with a movie about his rock fame, but, as we’ve seen before, it was already made with The Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night”. So I guess, film-wise, we’re about done with Lennon. I can only speculate that someone, as I write this, is repackaging “Chapter 27” on Blu-ray with new features that include Jared Leto covering “A Day in the Life”.
If you are a Beatles enthusiast, by all means, feel free to watch this middle-of-the-road clunker. It offers a couple of decent acting performances – looking at you, Kristen Scott Thomas – but the material is so subdued that it would serve better as biographical text. I feel it necessary to surmise that Sam Taylor-Wood, who is swapping cooties with Aaron Johnson, only wanted her beau to play Lennon in order to have a really expensive fantasy session. That may be sort of gross, but so is casting an actor that looks like the dude from “Harold and Maude” to play Paul McCartney – nobody really wins a sword-fight on a sinking ship.