Angsty Young Lennon Gets His Biopic

...That manages to never mention the word "Beatles"

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After making the festival circuit rounds, director Sam Taylor Wood's heavily-anticipated John Lennon biopic is beginning its limited release run in U.S. theaters. Timed to coincide with the would-be 70th birthday of the iconic musician, the film chronicles the arrogance, genius and wrenching heartbreak of the aspiring artist as teenager—and also manages to introduce audiences to two other lads named Paul and George. While the film's hinted at "freudian love triangle" raised the eyebrows of some reviewers, most critics saw the film as a solidly crafted, even downright traditional, pre-Beatles depiction.

  • It's A 'Tug-of-Love Melodrama' with young Lennon mostly bouncing between his aunt and mother as guardians, writes Ian Freer at Empire. Aaron Johnson's performance makes the film: "His Lennon is by turns feral, vulnerable, quick-witted and callow, never able to grasp the depths of love both women hold for him. Next year’s Kick-Ass may make Johnson a star, but Nowhere Boy feels like we are glimpsing a major talent in waiting. Which is pretty apt, really."
  • Lightly Peppered With Hints of the Future "When those hints arrive—John doodling walruses in class, or being called a loser by a wary lust object—the frisson makes you smile," notes Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf, who enjoyed the "romanticized evocation of the 1950s adolescence" in the film. Only one problem: "If only the script had been content to stick with its let's-start-a-band verve. Like many a musical biopic, Nowhere Boy wants to explain away the man (as if a song like 'In My Life' weren’t explanation enough)."
  • A 'Confident' Portrait of the 'Lairy, Mouthy' Teenaged Lennon  The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw recommends the film in this manner: "Perhaps Taylor Wood's wittiest touch is to begin her film with the first, jangling chord from A Hard Day's Night, which is simply allowed to hang there unresolved in the silence – a weirdly atonal effect, replacing the song's happy connotations with something more disturbing: a harbinger of something momentous."
  • If He Seems 'Like An Arrogant Little Shit' Well, it's because "the filmmakers have based that characterization largely on Lennon's own reflections, particularly in post-Beatles interviews," observes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "More broadly, this Lennon is an almost archetypal angry young man or rebel schoolboy of British Isles fiction and drama, a Liverpool cousin of Stephen Dedalus, dreaming of escape from his strangled, provincial environment."
  • Ringo Always Gets Shafted in Beatles film adaptations, writes Leslie Felperin at Variety. "Poor Ringo Starr has yet to be repped onscreen in a Beatles drama, having no place in this story's timeframe or in the underrated 1994 "Backbeat" (which covered the Hamburg years). Nor does Starr appear in 1991's "The Hours and Times," the 1963-set two-hander about Lennon and Brian Epstein, in which native Liverpudlian Ian Hart definitively incarnated Lennon onscreen as he did in 'Backbeat.'"
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