John Lennon's teen years are the focus of this very clumsy melodrama by Sam Taylor-Wood. Its few virtues—Liverpool period detail, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon's strict aunt, Anne Marie Duff as his unstable mother—are overwhelmed by the ah-ha moments: Look, there's Paul! And John's first guitar, his first band ... oh, and here comes George! (Ringo, as ever, remains a footnote.) Pretty soon The Quarrymen have formed, destiny beckons, and they're headed to Hamburg with a new band name. It all makes you want to dial up those early tunes on your iPod or watch A Hard Day's Night. But instead Taylor-Wood bludgeons us with one Oedipal screaming match after another: Lennon (the stolid, miscast Aaron Johnson) was abandoned by his mother, raised by his aunt, never knew his father, and suffered one family tragedy after another. As a result, when she comes back into his life after 15 years, Lennon clings to Mum and starts resenting her reliable sister, who raised him from toddlerhood. His anger borders on misogyny, and a better film might've explored that caustic side of Lennon's personality. But this is an origin story, the creation of a myth—and Nowhere Boy insists on healing the wounds instead of peeling back the scabs.
Down by the river: Johnson as Lennon
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., Oct. 15. Rated R. 95 minutes.