Posts Tagged ‘Sam Taylor-Wood’

23rd November
written by Mad Cow

Rated: R for language and a scene of sexuality

Mad Cow’s Rating (with caveat):

This sweet story about John Lennon’s life as a boy is for those of us who loved and appreciated him and even remember what we were doing the day he was shot down. Based on a memoir by one of his half-sisters, Julia Baird, the screenplay was written by Matt Greenhalgh. The film was directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, who happens to be a woman. This biopic gives us a picture of Lennon’s complicated life in a complicated family.

John (Aaron Johnson) was raised by his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall), never knowing that his mother lived nearby until a family crisis made her known to him. His mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) couldn’t have been more different than the strict Mimi. Julia immediately attempts to win him over (back?) with flirtatious over-attention, but can’t erase his questions and emotions over her long absence from his life.

As John gets into scrapes at school, Mimi tries to save him from himself and also to some extent from Julia, whose common-law spouse isn’t that crazy about John anyway. Meanwhile he learns to play the guitar! Inspired by a newsreel about Elvis, he starts a band and meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and George Harrison (Sam Bell) who join him in making music. Paul grew up without a mother, too, but because of illness. As John says to Julia, “It was cancer, what’s your excuse?”

The sweetness of the movie is in its genuine emotion and lack of grandiosity. Many movies about great men overstate the man’s greatness early in life and often imply that, like the little engine that could, he knew his destiny all along. Not here. John was a guy who liked to make music and wanted to start a band and perform, but there is no “just watch me become great” in his attitude. He is trying to work out his emotions in the face of grief, and happens to have an interest in the guitar.

Scott Thomas is marvelous as the stern stoic  aunt who keeps things together when they are in danger of falling apart. Reportedly John spoke with Mimi on the phone every week of his adult life until he died and Paul McCartney cautioned Taylor-Wood not to paint Mimi as only a disciplinarian but also as the loving person that she was. The portrayal of Julia is perhaps a bit over the top (Was she trying to seduce her own son?) but this is the story. Duff has received several British awards for her performance. (Eccentricity, like a red car, attracts attention, in this case deserved, but Scott Thomas was also excellent.) In any case, Julia was unstable. And John hardly got to know her before fate cast a fatal blow once again.

For director Taylor-Wood this was her feature film directorial debut. She is better known as a filmmaker of shorts as part of her work as a conceptual artist and photographer. I encourage readers to Google her work. One photograph she did is a copy of the photo of the nude Lennon in fetal pose next to Yoko, apparently originally photographed by Annie Liebowitz hours before Lennon’s death.

It’s quite exciting to see the teenage group, The Quarrymen, performing on the back of a truck at a local fair. We know what’s going to happen while they don’t. Likewise there is some internal flurry for us fans when John casually mentions that he’s leaving town because the group got a gig in Germany. It’s like seeing someone in a movie buy a ticket for the Titanic, but here it is with joyful anticipation instead of dread.

Had he not been assassinated, John Lennon would have reached the age of 70 on Oct. 9, 2010. I’ve noticed documentaries popping up here and there about his life. Perhaps he’s more famous today than he would have been had he lived, and that may be true because of generational changes. I doubt he would have followed the lead of the Rolling Stones or even Paul McCartney. But my speculation is so like that of star gazers everywhere. What do I know about it? But if you are a star gazer too, I think you’ll enjoy this little film.

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