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Nowhere Special (2021) Film Review

Rarely emotionally manipulative, Nowhere Special is a sensitive, true-to-life drama about a father and son facing a life-changing moment.

A single father has only a few months left to live, leading him to search for a new family for his four-year-old son after he passes. It’s a plot that could quite easily veer into the overly sentimental and be stuffed with clichés at every turn, so it is a testament to the writing and acting that Nowhere Special never enters this undesired territory. It stays grounded in its humanity and realism, and when the emotional angle hits (which it does, at numerous points), it isn’t overblown but is instead delicate, and all the more effective for it. Nowhere Special will give you warm feelings of joy coupled with uncomfortable but necessary feelings of sadness, entwining to form something quite beautiful.

Central to Nowhere Special is the relationship between John, played by a superb James Norton (McMafia, Little Women), and his son, Michael, who is brought to life by memorable newcomer Daniel Lamont. Michael’s mother left shortly after his birth, leaving the father and son together on their own, but very much not alone; there is a deep warmth to their father-son relationship and a truly believable connection. Lamont lends Michael a silent power as a toddler of few words, but whose observant eyes and endearing smile hint at a maturity to his person. Norton is charismatic and generous as John, and he captures the window cleaner’s struggles with the decision he needs to make to great effect. John’s inevitable death barely crosses his mind in comparison to finding the right family for Michael.

And continuing the realistic, human style flowing gently through Nowhere Special is Uberto Pasolini (Still Life), here on directorial and screenwriting duties. Loosely based on a true story, Nowhere Special is clearly a labour of love for Pasolini, who takes great care with his writing to create a host of believable characters, ones not just limited to John and Michael. The numerous introductions to possible foster families throughout Nowhere Special – undoubtedly an inconceivably difficult meeting for everyone involved – are a balancing act of humour (one ignorant couple gives a toy to Michael at the start of the meeting, only to ask for it back at the end) and serious emotion. In particular, a woman’s personal story of an abortion at an early age and her subsequent inability to conceive a child is a short but affecting plot point, one which Pasolini manages to give as much feeling to as the central story.

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Nowhere Special (Picomedia)

Pasolini’s direction isn’t perfect – there are a couple of cloying montages set to some emotionally obvious guitar music and a few odd stylistic choices – but for the most part, it’s a careful blend of reserved camerawork which allows the actors space to breathe and effective symbolism. John’s career as a window cleaner isn’t just a random job included in the script either; instead, Pasolini gives it meaning, with shots of everyday life reflected in and observed through windows, these glass spaces of great variety that reflect John’s tormented mental state (on his darkest day, he cleans a window that is a depressing slit in a grey wall). DOP Marius Panduru (Aferim!) captures the steady tick of daily life with ease, hinting at the fact that even with John’s passing, life will go on for everyone, including Michael. Nowhere Special might seem harsh in its messages, but it’s far from it, and is merely facing up to the sad inevitably of death and how we as humans of any age cope with it.

Nowhere Special asks hard questions but, true to life in a situation like this, rarely offers easy answers. John’s choice of a new family for his only son is difficult, to say the least, but it’s also one that needs to be made relatively quickly considering his terminal illness. His decision is made eventually, but inevitably the closure at the end of Nowhere Special is bittersweet: we don’t see John’s passing, but it’s coming soon. Michael’s understanding of the situation is clearer than John and the audience might believe, adding an extra charge to its conclusion with this childlike maturity. In contrast to its title, Nowhere Special is anything but ordinary, and is a film that will take you somewhere very tender, tearful and, quite frankly, unforgettable.

Nowhere Special is now available to watch on Digital and on Demand in the UK and in select countries. The film will be released in US theaters on April 26, 2024.

Nowhere Special: Trailer (Curzon)
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