If you head to the cinema to see this, make sure you grab a packet of tissues. If you watch this at home, don’t be embarrassed to let the tears flow and use your sleeve to wipe them away. There is no denying that Nowhere Special will invoke all sorts of emotions as you follow one single man’s journey to find a good life for his son.
We meet John (James Norton), a 34-year-old window cleaner driving around Belfast earning his keep. From the get-go, the film almost lets you in on the dirty secret of a window cleaner. The things behind the window on the second floor, like an inflatable raft. A child’s room filled with toys or the trinkets found in a thrift store. The secrets of a home only the window cleaner would know.
John is respected and liked, and many people in John’s life are willing to lend a hand where they can. It’s not until John gets home late one afternoon do we realise he has a 4-year-old son, Michael (Daniel Lamont). Thanking Deirdre, who was looking after Michael and helping him with his ironing, we discover a special relationship between this father and his son. But while the relationship may be exceptional, their situation is unique. This is why everyone is so helpful and accomodating.
John takes Michael to visit a family. This family doesn’t have any children, and at this point, it seems John wants to put Michael up for adoption. The family has a large property with plenty of space to run around and enjoy his childhood. Not to mention the size of the house he could be living in. It’s an exciting interaction between John and this married couple. He expresses nothing but love, admiration, respect, and paternal protection for Michael.
It’s not that John wants to give Michael away; he’s making sure his son’s future is set without him. John has terminal brain cancer. Not only is navigating being a single parent hard enough, but John also has the added pressure of finding the right family and finding a way to tell his only child about death and how he will die.
In just about any other situation similar to John’s, there’d be the mother, grandparents, uncles or aunties. But sadly, Michael’s Mother ran away to another country, never to be found. John moved around foster home to foster home with no parents to speak of. With no partner, the only option is for a wanting carer to give Michael the best life they can and honour the memory of his father the only way they can.
Nowhere Special is a touching story full of raw emotion that doesn’t skirt around a sad circumstance just to make a movie out of it. This is the journey of a beautiful father and his son navigating a unique situation no one could ever dream of. Based on actual events, Nowhere Special lets you inside these characters of Michael and John to witness the heartbreak, love and joy, all the while uncertain and unknowing of how this life of theirs will play out.
This brings us to the performances. It’s the performance of James Norton (Little Women, Mr Jones, Flatliners) that will leave most men wanting to become a father, and most women start their search for this fatherly figure. After some research to see if Norton had children of his own, it turns out he doesn’t. Which makes his portrayal as a father even more remarkable. These little mannerisms are like a head tilt to almost communicate without words. He managed to capture that thing only the great performers can do; grab a moment without words, cry without bawling or be angry without yelling. Norton puts John right on the edge of every emotion. He indeed finds his way inside your every feeling and emotion.
But the best performance quickly goes to 4-year-old Daniel Lamont, who plays Michael. There are no words to describe how breathtaking and surreal his performance is. There was a moment where Lamont had one line to say back to Norton, “inside”. But the word had to be expressed as a question, and his delivery of the line was so earnest and such an understanding of the scene. His entire performance was remarkable, full of glances here and a random line there. Not to mention the chemistry both Lamont and Norton had on screen. Kudos to Casting Director Carla Stronge.
This incredible and heartbreaking story with spectacularly beautiful performances wouldn’t be possible without the Writer and Director, Uberto Pasolini. Not by any means new to the circuit, having been producing films since the early 90s with the likes of The Full Monty. But it hasn’t been until the mid-2000s that he’s hit his stride. With a background in very character-driven films, Nowhere Special will quickly put Pasolini up with some modern greats.
Pasolini not only found a way to make an “average Joe” window cleaner be more than what you would expect. He also made the audience fall in love with him and dread what they knew was coming. Then to build the chemistry between the two performers with such simplicity that appears bigger than the film itself is a testament to a very grand talent in storytelling.
Overall, Nowhere Special is the decision for a man to decide his 4 year old’s future and hope it works out. In the end, you have to trust you did everything right for the short time you had together. It’s horrible to think Nowhere Special is based on a real story. But what Director Uberto Pasolini managed to create on-screen is nothing short of a triumph.
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