21 June 2010

Review: Nowhere Boy

Genre: Drama / Biopic

Last year's Orange-British-Academy-Film-Awards nominated reinvention of the musically formative years of rock-icon John Lennon stirs up a lot of perhaps inspirational angst within and amongst its characters, as it now reaches States' side, yet it remains restrained enough to not tizzy itself completely beyond balance - a British virtue almost certainly.

In fact, most stabilizing of the film are its central performances, particularly those two (also nominated) by the supporting women in John's life: his absent mother, played with aplomb by Anne-Marie Duff, and his overly present aunt, played with tenderness by Kristin Scott Thomas. In terms of structure within the history of adolescent tales, these two women serve as the traditional feminine bookends: the permissive and the dismissive maternal figures respectively, whom a literate anthropologist may assign to the respective pleas and plights of developing children, attempting to reconcile their myriad with their limitations. In terms of between-spectator-and-spectacle interaction, these women serve as tacks, primarily by means of which the viewer may access the emotional contusions of John's particular coming-of-age tale. Subtly infecting this delicate balance between permission and dismission, affect and effect, is the uneven-handedness in the salience with which each of these women's roles in the film is portrayed in relation to the other's: While the novel daring of Ms. Duff's Julia Lennon is rejoiced even rapturously in impression's depth and duration in John's portrayed life, the surveilling caution of Ms. Thomas' Mimi is deferred often discourteously in impression's depth and duration in the same portrait. The effect of this imbalance is, yes, a more exciting film in the short run - exciting as small squirts of dopaminergic responses from indulging in fast food may be exciting - but, moreover, a plainly lopsided representation of John's key influences during his adolescence and in Ms. Duff's case an overrepresentation of the her character's. Though perhaps an honest depiction of the ratio of one to the other in this period of John's actual life, the audience the majority of which will not be so knowledgeable of his biography that they know this period's fully can not, without explicit appreciation of this fact, experience the full dramatic tension - indeed, the pivotal tension of this story - wrought by the motivational conflict between these two influential characters' personal quotidian philosophies. A balance more considerate of this fact than this imbalance in the film would have done wonders to improve it in spectral impact and impression - particularly in the long run.

Nevertheless, Nowhere Boy is a completely fine work that conveys the information that it wanted to convey about this particular period in John Lennon's adolescence. Actor Aaron Johnson, doing his female tutelaries fair justice in his own right, skillfully enough steers his protagonist through a minefield of potential hazards for maudlin clichés; does so with style, in and among costumes and sets of high order and craftsmanship; and walks away, having shed off most of the jeunesse that befell him early on. Directress Sam Taylor Wood hopefully in reality has done the same; we attend for her next film, to be sure.

Grade: B/B-.

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