ReThink Review: Nowhere Boy -- On His 70th Birthday, Lennon as a Lad

10/09/2010 05:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This October 9 would've been the 70th birthday of John Lennon, a statement that can't help but make one wonder about what could/should have been. What kind of music would he have made? What would he be saying about the world today? What causes would he be championing? I imagine Lennon would've been much like a modern-day Mark Twain, a man who the media constantly sought out to see how any and all world events would be refracted through the prism of his considerable intellect, talent with words and impish wit. The fact that we never got to hear those thoughts from Lennon is a terrible loss.

With a figure as colossal as Lennon, it's hard to remember that he was once just a lad growing up in working-class post-World War II Liverpool. Lennon's pivotal teenage years, when he first discovered rock 'n' roll and confronted the complicated relationship between himself, the aunt who raised him, the mother who didn't, and the father he never knew are explored in the new film Nowhere Boy, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood in her feature debut with a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh (CONTROL). See the trailer for Nowhere Boy below.

Nowhere Boy takes place in 1955, when the arrival of rock 'n' roll began pulling young Brits out of the conformity and discipline that had kept England together during World War II. Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) puts in a strong performance as the fifteen-year-old John, who, by the looks of it, spent considerable time in the gym when he wasn't rehearsing with his first band, the Quarrymen, or rebelling against authority. That authority is embodied by John's strict, straight-laced aunt Mimi (an excellent Kristin Scott Thomas), while John's biological mother, Julia (a vibrant Anne-Marie Duff), represents the exciting, impetuous sexual energy of rock 'n' roll. It was Julia who introduced John to rock, taught him to play the banjo (which led to him picking up the guitar), and supported John's early musical endeavors, but it was Mimi who fed him, put a roof over his head, and who John called every week until he died. Nowhere Boy chronicles John's journey to reconcile his relationships between the two most important women in his life while embracing the rock 'n' roll music and attitude that would start a revolution.

One of the nice things about Nowhere Boy is that it's really a small coming-of-age story that would probably work even if it's main character didn't become one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. But knowing that it does adds meaning and weight to each moment, especially when John discovers his idol, Elvis Presley, his fledgling "skiffle" band embarks on its first performances and John is introduced to two promising young musicians named Paul and George. And on the day when he would have turned 70, it's a wonderful gift to have a loving portrait of Lennon's crucial, turbulent adolescence to remind us of his humble roots and the forces that drove him as we celebrate who Lennon was, even as we try to hide our sadness and loss at never getting to know who he would become.

Happy birthday, John. We miss you and will never forget you.

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