Monday, October 18, 2010


I was a my younger son's age when REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE came out [my fingers first wrote PAUSE instead of CAUSE, two letters at almost opposite ends of the keyboard, so another one of those post-brain surgery poetic slips) and my first thought was that the actor playing the lead, James Dean, didn't look like any high school kid I knew because he looked way too old, twenty at least.

When I've seen that film again over the years that problem has long disappeared, especially the older I got. I thought of that last night when I caught NOWHERE BOY, the story of John Lennon's relationships with the aunt who raised him and the mother who wasn't there for most of that. It covers the period from when he was fourteen to seventeen, but I was distracted a few times by the thought that the actor who plays him, Aaron Johnson, and does a great job I might add, looks at times like the beefy twenty-year-old he was when the movie was made (a joint Canadian-English production, it came out last year in those two countries but just opened here in the USA).

I asked my thirteen-year-old who saw it with me how old he thought the actor playing Lennon was on our way home and he said "Twenty" just like that. If I'd been asked, I wouldn't have known so specifically, but as a kid I probably would have. But it didn't bother my young son, he accepted that the actor was older and still gave in to the pretense that the character was pretty close to his own age.

I had taken my little guy after we'd both seen the trailer for the film several weeks ago (see below) and had been looking forward to seeing it ever since. The trailer made the movie look like a lark, like a prequel to A HARD DAY'S NIGHT or something as fanciful and light. But it turned out to be much darker, with a few inappropriate, even though not that explicit, sex scenes I made him cover his eyes for. It was the darker aspects of John's upbringing that I was afraid might be too heavy for my young son.

But fortunately, he seemed to get the seriousness of it without being effected by the emotional turmoil (as I was, getting all teary-eyed over some scenes) when the story we had wanted to see of the carefree but tough young musical genius the trailer seemed to promise turned out to be the more melodramatic story of feuding sisters who used a child, John, as their bone of contention.

But because it's so focused on a specific time period, pre-Beatles (Paul and George enter the scene very late, and Thomas Brooke Sangster as Paul almost steals his scenes with "John" in a cany portrayal of a calculatingly determined and disciplined young virtuoso contrasted with John's more impulsive and undisciplined, though uniquely inspired, young genius) and almost exclusively on his relationships with the aunt who raised him and the mother who didn't, with a dollop of early bonding as well as competitiveness with the young Paul.

Overall, it's a totally worthwhile film to see, for my taste. Kristen Scott Thomas as John's Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as his mother, Julia, elevate what could have been a little too soap operaish to the level of something closer to true art. And despite his age, Johnson captures a lot of what we think we already know about John's early personality (the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh is based on a memoir from John's younger half-sister, Julia Baird) and some what we may not. Check it out.

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