Nowhere Special, 2020.
Directed by Uberto Pasolini.
Starring James Norton, Daniel Lamont and Eileen O’Higgins.
A terminally ill man devotes his final months to tracking down a suitable adopted family for his four-year-old son.
“Where is my mummy?” asks a four-year-old boy during one of many heart-breaking scenes in new drama Nowhere Special. The youngster has noticed that almost everybody else at the school gates has two parents, sparking one of many awkward conversations his father has with him over the course of the movie. John (James Norton) tells little Michael (Daniel Lamont) that his mother “had to go” somewhere “far, far away”, but it’s a small fry of an admission next to the other secret he’s concealing. John is suffering from a terminal illness and doesn’t have long to live.
Written and directed by The Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini, inspired by a newspaper article, the movie follows John as he attempts to find the perfect “normal family” to adopt Michael after he’s gone. He feels immense guilt at not being able to guide his son through life, even hoping that Michael will never want to know who he was, telling social services that would mean “he won’t need to remember how useless his parents were”.
It’s an emotionally fraught and potentially cheesy story, but Pasolini wisely dials the volume way down. Despite the intensity of John’s predicament, the movie is almost entirely free of histrionics. It focuses on the cold, hard realities of this situation, with John – a taciturn, tattooed window cleaner – exactly the sort of man who will never be willing to have a frank conversation about the maelstrom of feelings inside his head.
Thankfully for us, Norton is an actor with enough bandwidth to convey all of those emotions from beneath John’s exterior shell. He might be widely known for plum-voiced period dramas and wearing Bond-baiting suits in TV thriller McMafia, but this is a very different Norton. He’s not just concealed behind an excellent Belfast accent, but also a mess of tattoos and a sense of a man who has closed himself off emotionally to protect the impressionable young boy, obsessed with dinosaurs and the colour red, who relies upon and idolises him.
Norton’s bond with his tiny co-star Lamont means that Pasolini is mostly able to take a step back and let the actors power the thing, keeping the camerawork subtle in order to capture grounded, naturalistic work. It’s clear the two performers have spent a lot of time together and have formed a real bond, allowing them to trust each other enough to deal with scenes of exceptional poignancy. One moment involving a birthday candle is delightfully under-played, but leaves an indelible impact.
For all of the intelligence of the performances, though, the decision to rely on them over plot doesn’t always work – particularly when the story has to move away from their chemistry. A lot of time is spent moving between potential adopted parents and, while some of these vignettes are entertaining, it feels like a missed opportunity to make a more pointed comment about the failures of that particular system. Occasionally the movie discovers an interesting topic, only to move away from it. The same is true of Norton’s work as a window cleaner, with the intriguing idea of him being forced to look in on the perfection of others’ lives largely ignored.
Despite its occasional missteps and its stripped-down approach to some issues that could’ve been explored further, Nowhere Special thrives when it foregrounds the unique chemistry between its two leading men. It’s told as something of a love story between father and son, but one given extra poignancy by the fact we know it’s winding inexorably towards a tragic conclusion. When the movie is able to convey the weight of that tragedy and the sacrifice of a devoted father, it’s enough to bring about a tear or two. It certainly got a little dusty in the room where I was watching it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.