British artist Taylor-Wood's feature debut is a fairly mainstream account of the trials and tribulations of a certain Liverpool teenager named John Lennon, in the years leading up to his formation of the Beatles. Although there are the requisite scenes of John's first meeting with Paul McCartney and other key moments in Fab Four history, the story focuses primarily on Lennon's relationship with his flighty mother Julia, with whom he reconnected shortly before her death, while he lived with Julia's more buttoned-down sister Mimi.
Far and away the best thing about this film is its cast, with Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) really capturing Lennon's energy, humor, and occasional cruelty, even if he lacks the singer's famous beak. Kristin Scott Thomas is effectively restrained as Mimi, but it's Anne-Marie Duff, as the flirty, slightly unstable Julia, who is the film's great revelation. Other than that, while Taylor-Wood embarks on the occasional visual flight of fancy, she is committed to making a straightforward drama about a future rock legend's tumultuous relationships. But while most of what transpires in Nowhere Boy actually happened, the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story doesn't quite save the film from becoming something of a soap opera at times, with tormented young John forced to choose between his irresponsible mother and his square but devoted aunt.
Still, I liked Nowhere Boy, and I imagine most Beatles fans will find it insightful. What may be most interesting about it, though, is what happened behind the scenes: unintentionally echoing the film's implied incestuous attraction between Lennon and his mother, Johnson, then 19, became romantically involved with his 42-year-old director. (They had a baby in mid-2010.) Not to mention costar Duff's marriage to the nine-years-younger actor James McAvoy, and Scott Thomas's since-ended relationship with actor Tobias Menzies, 14 years her junior. That Lennon himself wound up marrying a woman seven years older than he brings it all full circle.
Cougar gossip aside, one final note is that the film's fine orchestral score was composed by the duo better known as Goldfrapp.