Yes, you know how it ends. So, the question is whether this is a magical mystery tour worth taking. And the answer is yes, because as Beatles porn goes, this one is pretty hardcore.
As Nowhere Boy opens, a teenage John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is living with his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thompson) and her husband, George (David Threfall). After George's sudden death, John gets back in touch with his mother—he sees her standing there, at the funeral. Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) lives not too far away, but she has a husband (David Morrissey) and some other kids. She's a flirty, free spirit, a rock 'n' roller who'd never tell her boy to get up and dance to a song that was a hit before his mother was born. She introduces John to the devil's music, and soon he goes all pompadour and Screaming Jay Hawkins.
But this newfound relationship with his mum isn't all strawberry fields forever—one moment he wants to hold her hand, the next he needs her to get back. He's just a young man, after all, trying to find his way and sort out why he's been living with his mother's sister all these years and not his mother. John feels he's got to get her into his life, but he's still trying to figure out why she had to go—he doesn't know, she wouldn't say. The thing is, just when things seem to be getting better all the time, they go all helter skelter.
The film marks the feature directorial debut of the conceptual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who ended up in a relationship with her leading man, Aaron Johnson, who's more than 20 years younger, ultimately delivering his child. Sure, those are some TMZ / Gawker details, but it's worth touching on because it informs how she approaches Lennon and Johnson, best known for his leading role in Kick-Ass. His is a surly Lennon, a petulant teen dealing with a complex home life and an unknown past. All he needs is love, of course, but since great pain sometimes leads to great art, collectively we're lucky he found it the way he did.
While Nowhere Boy is solid, it isn't as inspired, say, as The Beatles. In fact, it's really just a fairly standard family melodrama, albeit one whose central member is one of history's most famous people. Johnson is engaging as Lennon, and it's cool to see him pick up his first guitar, meet Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) and George Harrison (Sam Bell) and gig with the Quarrymen, a precursor band to The Beatles.
But what holds it all together is Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon's Aunt Mimi. She's the quintessential British stiff upper lip, the goodbye to Lennon's raging rock 'n' roll hello. Her performance is mannered and layered, because as dowdy and uptight as she is, she also plays the film's most interesting and sympathetic character. It's not as though Mimi was Lennon's muse—he wrote the lovely “Julia” for his mother, after all. No, she stands for the establishment, the strong-willed parental figure constantly pestering Lennon to wear his glasses and exceeding at hiding her love away. She is as grimly affectionate as she is responsible, but when all is said and done, John gets by with a little help from his aunt, not just his friends.