Those who remember John Lennon as the guy who sang about peace are in for a rude shock in this biopic, focusing on Lennon from about 1955 till 1960, when his new band goes off to Hamburg for the first time. The teenager here is casually cruel, quick to anger, basically a jerk to friends and enemies alike. Living with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George (the early death of the latter doesn’t help his disposition any), he still misses his real mum, Julia, who, he later discovers, lives not far from his Liverpool home. The constant conflict between Mimi and John, while he attempts to rekindle a relationship with the free-spirited Julia, fuels most of the film, and we can see how Lennon’s rebellious persona took shape: caught between the strait-laced, humorless aunt who actually raised him, and the largely absent mother who shares her son’s nonconformity and love of music. There are conflicting accounts as to how and why Julia gave up her young son, and the screenplay doesn’t help matters any with a confusing flashback that asks us to believe that Lennon wouldn’t have remembered the actual traumatic event.
Aaron Johnson (from Kick-Ass, and now engaged to director Wood, 20 years his senior) does a credible job with Lennon’s mannerisms and accent, although it would have helped matters more if the casting director had chosen actors who had even the slightest resemblance to younger versions of Paul and George. The film does effectively show how music basically saved Lennon’s life, with some fun scenes of his skiffle band, The Quarrymen, playing and rehearsing. He also drew James Thurber-style cartoons, wrote poetry and loved Lewis Carroll, but you’d hardly know this from what’s on screen: the film seems more enamored of his aggressive, violent side than his vulnerable, artistic one.