‘Nowhere Special’ Review: James Norton Is Superb In Father-And-Son Drama That Won’t Leave A Dry Eye In The House

Every week there are large numbers of indie and specialty releases vying for attention. It’s impossible to do them all, so when the option of reviewing Nowhere Special was placed in front of me I resisted at first after discovering it actually premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. That’s right, four years ago. I had to wonder what could possibly be good about a film delayed for that long in terms of getting a U.S. release date? Finally caving in to the persistent requests by the distributor and its passionate PR team, I decided to check it out.

What I discovered was not that this was some sort of troubled film, not even close. Instead I found a spare but moving drama, powered by a remarkable lead performance, that is all about life and death and all things in between. At its heart it is also an inspiring story of dedicated parent and child, how we face the uncertain future, and what we leave behind. Nowhere Special is something special indeed. If you aren’t shedding well-earned tears by the end of this film you simply are not human.

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This is not to say director-writer-producer Uberto Pasolini has made some sort of cloying and maudlin attempt to win our sympathy. This is actually a movie refreshingly void of piled-on pathos and sentimentality, instead using a deliberate pace to tell what is said to be inspired by a true story about a 35-year-old window washer, John (James Norton), in Northern Ireland who is a single dad to a 4-year-old toddler named Michael (Daniel Lamont), both abandoned by the Russian mother who left her boyfriend and new son at birth to return to her home country and go completely out of their lives. If that wasn’t a cruel enough blow to have life throw at you, John has also learned he has just months to live (although we never do find out the cause of his impending death), and so, as the film begins, he has set out on a mission with an adoption agency to try to find a forever home for Michael, rather than put him through the series of foster homes he had to endure growing up.

Pasolini takes us through a number of situations in the adoptive process as John, with an unsuspecting Michael by his side, meets with several prospective “parents,” each with distinctive personalities that make none of them slam dunks for Michael. In between we see John and Michael living the mundanity of their everyday lives as John also tries to continue doing his window washing job, though it progressively gets more difficult, and create some sort of normalcy as he brings up his son, still knowing the end is nearing and time is running out in his quest. The filmmaker never brings attention to any of this, just lets it breathe in and out. By the time, in a beautifully written and played scene, where John sits down to read a book called When Dinosaurs Die to his boy you will be a goner. Guaranteed.

Fortunately, Pasolini has a splendid cast to help tell this sad but oddly hopeful story starting with Norton (Bob Marley: One Love, Little Women), who was nominated for a British Independent Film Award as Best Actor for the role and delivers a poignant and heartbreaking performance as a good father whose last act is to find a happy place for his son, and then to simply let go. No easy task. Norton is brilliant in letting us see it all unfold without saying much at all. Lamont is a real find, enormously photogenic and never less than believable as a 4-year-old who is wise beyond his years. The last time I saw this kind of relationship work this well on screen was Dustin Hoffman and Justin Henry in 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. The supporting cast is very fine, particularly veteran Stella McCusker, even if most just get one scene to rise above stereotyping in what is essentially a two-hander between father and son.

Andrew Simon McAllister’s lovely score fits the mood perfectly here. Now that Nowhere Special has found its way to America, the pandemic and industry strikes behind its delays, let’s hope it finds the audience it deserves. It will stay with you long afterwards.

Title: Nowhere Special
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Release date: April 26, 2024 (limited)
Director-screenwriter: Uberto Pasolini
Cast: James Norton, Daniel Lamont, Carol Moore, Valerie Kane, Eileen O’Higgins, Laura Hughes, Stella McCusker, Roisin Gallagher, Keith McErlean, Chris Corrigan, Niamh McGrady, Siobhan McSweeney, Caolan Byrne, Rhoda Ofori-Attah
Running time: 1 hr 36 min

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