Gemma Creagh reviews Nowhere Special, a true story about a terminally-ill father who attempts to find a new home for his young son.
Set in Belfast, John (James Norton, Happy Valley, McMafia) is a single, hard-working window cleaner who lives for his inquisitive four-year-old, Michael (Daniel Lamont). As John’s health begins to deteriorate, their simple, day-to-day routine, such as going to the park, eating grapes, fighting over pyjamas, are weighted with the inevitable loss of what’s to come. John’s days are punctuated with visits from well-meaning care workers, as well as a string of interviews with potential parents for Michael after he’s gone.
Meeting with this eclectic array of families – a rich couple with plans to send Michael to boarding school, a postman who hates dogs when all Michael wants is a puppy, a fussy woman and her browbeaten, train-enthusiast husband – starts to worry John. He begins to question if he knows his son well enough to decide what he needs. With time running out, John’s forced to make the most important decision of his life.
In a restrained, subtle manner, this film examines those big questions, looking at legacy and responsibility. What does a child really need when growing up? What are you leaving behind when you leave this world? Nowhere Special uses the immersive visual environment and natural soundscape of the city to convey John’s thoughts. Norton’s strong, interior performance teamed with the warm, truthful chemistry between himself and the impressive young talent Lamont, layers even the simplest of scenes with emotion. The lack of dialogue in those key moments is a powerful choice by the filmmaker.
Yet, Uberto Pasolini, a bubbly, older Italian aristocrat and The Full Monty producer, would be the last man you’d pick from a line-up to tell this story authentically. After reading an article in the Daily Mail about a 40-year-old father who spent the last few months of life searching for a home for his child, Pasolini was inspired to make this film. Duty and legacy are clearly themes he’s drawn to, gauging by his 2013 feature starring Eddie Marsan, Still Life. While the subject matter of Nowhere Special is not the lightest, thanks to Pasolini’s deft hand coupled with Norton’s nuanced performance, the film is engaging and easy to watch. It avoids being maudlin at all costs, instead celebrating John and Michael’s relationship, and finding joy in small moments. This thoughtful film is a quiet gem that captures the beauty, complexities and of life, warts and all.
Nowhere Special is released on video on demand and in cinemas on 16th July 2021.