An accomplished visual artist making her feature debut, Taylor-Wood has crafted a movie about a boy (well played by Aaron Johnson) famished for love and searching for identity. She shows how he goes about getting crumbs of both from the estranged sisters, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, hiding emotions behind a Kabuki mask of self-control) and Julia (Anne-Marie Duff, an emotional cyclone blowing through life).
Based on a memoir by Julia Baird, John's half-sister, the atmospheric film is sparked by the performance of Johnson, who nicely captures the anarchic wit and antagonizing spirit Lennon exhibited in movies and interviews. More to the point, he conveys the impatience and melancholy of the Lost Boy who doesn't find himself when he reconnects with his long-lost Mum.
From the movie's first frame (accompanied by the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night," the only note of Beatles music in a film that ends with Lennon's "Mother"), Taylor-Wood captures the sounds and textures of Liverpool and Blackpool, where a new beat is playing in the cafes and clubs.
Her lips a slash of crimson and her hips seductively swaying, Julia dances to Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You," vamping her son, who will express his percolating sexual desire with a more appropriate partner. Julia has no boundaries. But she does encourage his self-expression, teaching her boy how to play the banjo (in a lovely time-lapse sequence).
Though he doesn't see it, John's self-command comes from Mimi, as tightly focused as her younger sister is a blur of curls and seduction. In Taylor-Wood's film, the tug-of-war for John's heart is emotionally wrenching and beautifully realized. Yes, John meets Paul (Thomas Sangster) and they both meet George and sing "In Spite of All the Danger," a haunting song by the Quarrymen that provides the perfect grace note to Taylor-Wood's tale of rock-and-roil.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey
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