A big congratulations to Uberto Pasolini ('Still Life') and the team behind 'Nowhere Special' for making the saddest film of 2022. Anyone would be forgiven for welling up at just hearing what this film is about, and then when they learn that this is based on a true story, the waterworks will flood down. Audiences, you have been warned, and although this film runs a smidgen over 90 minutes, it will be one of the toughest 90 minutes witnessed on screen.
John (James Norton, 'Little Women') is a 35-year-old window cleaner working in Belfast who devotes his life to looking after his son, Michael (Daniel Lamont). John works hard, trying to provide for his most cherished boy, and even though the mother left the scene soon after Michael's birth, he is seen as wanting for nothing but the love and comfort of his dad. Unfortunately, after being told he only has a short time left to live, we meet John in the midst of the awful challenge of finding a new family to adopt his son. Yes, that's right, this film centres on the relationship of a dying father and his son, who are besotted with one another, and yet are faced with the impossible decision of leaving each other behind. Like I said, balling my eyes out - all that's missing is a dead dog.
'NOWHERE SPECIAL' TRAILER
Pasolini came across this story in the newspaper and was immediately drawn to the love and devotion John had for Michael, which is what Pasolini is very careful in portraying on screen. This is not a film about grief and loss; rather, it is about love in the face of cruelty. Not cruelty in the sense of bullying, but at the hurdles life will throw at you. Furthermore, Pasolini goes so far as to show that no matter how gruelling the reality may be, there is always love and care to be found in the people around you.
While constantly playing with crossing the line into complete devastation, Pasolini approaches the subject delicately, and instead focuses on the warmth of what I call "garbage time". Garbage time is just that: the time between the special days or quality time; it's the mundane and universal daily rituals that are to be cherished. This is where the heart of the film truly lies. For example, there is a moment when John is lying on the couch, completely drained of energy, and Michael takes his blanket from the room and drapes it over his father for comfort - my heart melts just thinking about it again. The on-screen chemistry between Norton and Lamont allows for that garbage time to shine, especially once John becomes more ill, and is able to do fewer physical activities with his son.
Although talking about it and living through it, this is not a film about grief and loss, rather it is about love in the face of cruelty.
Stoic and resolute throughout, John is a beacon of parenthood. Norton could - and many would - have overacted the pain and suffering, but he's able to embody John in a way that allows him to hold back and restrain his performance. It allows for not only a more natural feel to the film, but a more intimate insight into his inner monologue. John is portrayed as being so close to perfect, but Norton brings just enough to the role to humanise him, and that proves to be really important.
Michael is only four or five years old, which means that the heavy emotional beats will not fall on him, and fair enough. He doesn't necessarily understand the situation, and even though his father tries to explain the concept of death through a beetle they find in the park, but it's still a bridge too far. Michael's youth works to the film's advantage, allowing the devastation to seep through in the background, while the love and warmth can be kept in the foreground. There are no over-the-top scenes of him acting out, or being angry with his parents for abandoning him, because he simply doesn't understand, and that is what aids Pasolini in crafting the film as a more tender piece.
A delicate yet gruelling film, 'Nowhere Special' is filled with moments that just make you want to hug your loved ones. I cannot stress this enough - if you have a child, or if you ever were a child, this film has the capacity to break your heart. It may be the saddest film of the year so far, but with Pasolini's passion for human stories and Norton's attention to character, 'Nowhere Special' ends up taking its audiences to an incredibly sensitive, warm and altogether heartfelt place.