October 15, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'Nowhere Boy' -- GRADE: B

Review: Sweet 'Nowhere Boy' explores Lennon's teen years

Aaron Johnson plays the teenage John Lennon. (Weinstein Co.)

John Lennon was one messed up and beautiful kid.

Which isn't all that surprising because by most accounts John Lennon was one messed up and beautiful adult.

But he also was one of the defining artists of the 20th century; so now we have "Nowhere Boy," a biography of his teen years and transition from troublemaker to would-be rock star.

Understand, this is not a Beatles bio. Paul McCartney and George Harrison eventually show up, but these are the pre-Beatles years for Lennon.

Life, it seems, certainly gave the young Lennon (played by Aaron Johnson from "Kick-Ass") plenty of anger to work with.

His mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), abandoned him to her older sister Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, exquisitely tight), when he was 5. His father was nowhere in the picture.

This finds the teen John more than a bit stressed, so he turns to rebellious rock music for an outlet.

When he gets up the nerve to go and visit his mother, she further encourages his love of rock. So he picks up a guitar.

Lennon's reunion with his mother takes on near-incestuous tones as they dance and sing and party together. She's one of those eternal bad girls, and he's suddenly her best friend.

But she has two more children now, little girls, and a husband (David Morrissey) who knows how fragile she is mentally. John just doesn't fit in their family, and so it's back to Mimi.

In the meantime, though, he's formed a band called the Quarrymen and, well, you know where that's headed.

More love triangle than musical, the effective and often sweet "Nowhere Boy" offers a sense of the time and tension that produced John Lennon.

What it can't offer, though, is an answer to the essential question: Why him? Of all the millions of screwed-up kids in this world, how did he end up John Lennon?

tlong@detnews.com

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