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“Nowhere Boy,” the world is at your command.

“Nowhere Boy,” the world is at your command. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

“Nowhere Boy” takes a sort of superhero origin story approach to the life of John Lennon (played by Aaron Johnson) — he’s fifteen when it starts and already larger than life, nineteen when it ends and headed off to Hamburg with his latest band. “What are they called again?” his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) asks. “Do you care?” he responds. “They all sound the same to me,” she tell him. Har har har.

Even with those scattered bits of on-the-nose foreshadowing, the saga of how young Lennon falls in love with music, and then with making music, and then with making music as part of a band worked just fine for me. In the Mia Wallace dichotomy, I absolutely fall on the Beatles side, and I got a kick out of seeing Lennon’s initial attempt at Elvis hair, his first gig, and his posturing when confronted with a diminutive Paul McCartney (played by Thomas Sangster, who was Liam Neeson’s love-struck stepson in “Love Actually”) in the latter’s impromptu try-out when they’re introduced.

Alas, that all takes place in the background of a giant to-do about Lennon’s home life, which develops into triangle between him, Mimi, who’s all starchy, stiff upper lip propriety, and her sister — his mother — Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who’s all warmth, gaiety and instability. What lad could choose between such persistent female archetypes? Julia gave him over to Mimi’s care when he was five and, according to the film’s source material, a memoir by Lennon’s half-sister, the two didn’t see each other again for years, despite the fact that Julia and her new family lived within walking distance.

01222010_nowhereboy5.jpgReunited with her son, Julia woos him with affection and introduces him to music, but she’s needy, unfit to take care of him and inappropriately flirty. Mimi is prickly, can’t express her emotions and doesn’t support Lennon’s rock aspirations, but loves him and has always been there for him in other ways. These ties have been churned into melodrama, but “Nowhere Boy” has the frustrating dilemma of ascribing to biopic tics without applying them to its subjects life. Why flatten the messiness of these real relationships in this way if they’re not going to be explicitly tied to some aspect of Lennon the legend? Conversely, if this is supposed to be a less traditional exploration of a famous musician’s early years, and not one that “solves” him, why draw the characters so two-dimensionally?

Director Sam Taylor-Wood is an artist who shot the acclaimed 2008 short “Love You More” before making her feature debut with “Nowhere Boy,” and seems with the latter to have committed herself to making something stalwartly straightforward, never pushing toward any visual or narrative inventiveness. She is, at least, unafraid to show that Lennon can be a real shit to his family and to his friends, prone to fits of anger and cruelty, while also making it clear why they and everyone else adored him anyway. It helps that he’s played by Johnson, who’ll be making a splash soon with “Kick-Ass” and who’s utterly magnetic here despite bearing no particular resemblance to the man he’s channeling. (He’s this Sundance’s Carey Mulligan, who he incidentally starred with in a film from last year’s festival that has yet to reach theaters, “The Greatest.”) Raising low-key Liverpudlian hell with a friend, charming girls on the street, riding on bustops and stealing what turn out to be (accidentally) jazz records from a shop, his joy in himself and his own semi-rebellious youth is irresistible.

“Nowhere Boy” will be released by the Weinstein Company later this year.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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