A teenage, pre-Beatles John Lennon pulls through hard times with rock 'n' roll in 'Nowhere Boy.'
The Weinstein Company/AP
Actors who play famous people are always at a disadvantage. They come across as counterfeit. Performance too often shades into impersonation. In the case of "Nowhere Boy," Aaron Johnson is playing the teenage, pre-Beatles John Lennon in mid-1950s Liverpool, and the setting is unfamiliar enough to skirt most of the standard biopic problems.
Johnson does a terrific job of capturing Lennon's mannerisms without coming across like a puppet. After a while, you forget you're watching "John Lennon" altogether. It becomes a movie about a rebellious kid whose love of skiffle and rock 'n' roll music helps pull him through hard times.
The film's emotional dynamic is a triangle set up between John and his fun-loving, dissolute mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who gave him up in his infancy, and John's upright aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), Julia's sister, who raised him. It's effective but schematic storytelling.