Nowhere Special (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Before he dies

“Nowhere Special” is a mildly poignant drama film about a decent guy who simply wants his young son to have a good life after he is gone. Although it thankfully avoids sappy sentimentality as earnestly rolling its story from one episodic point to another, the movie is a bit too muted and reserved to engage me enough, and that is a shame considering some good efforts shown from this rather passable work.

At first, the movie, which is set in Belfast, Northern Island, shows us how much John (James Norton) cares about his young son Michael (Daniel Lamont). Since his foreign wife left them some years ago, John has tried to raise Michael alone by himself, and it looks like he has been doing a good job on that. We see him taking his son to his son’s kindergarten before beginning another workday of his, and their bond is palpable to us even when they do not speak with each other.

However, there is one big problem. John has actually been terminally ill (The movie never specifies that, by the way), and he does not have any close family member to take care of his son after he dies. Besides, as a menial laborer, he has been barely making ends meet day by day for him and his son, and he is certainly quite worried about his son’s welfare in the future.

At least, John gets some help from a couple of social service workers, who willingly introduce him to a number of people who seem ready to take care of his son. At one point, he visits an affluent middle-class people who look like ideal foster parents for his son in many aspects, but he cannot help but hesitate because he does not feel that right about these people and, above all, there are still several other candidates to meet besides them.

The other candidates are also fairly good, but, not so surprisingly, each of them has each own flaw to notice. When John and Michael later visit one jolly middle-aged couple, they are surely happy to meet John and Michael, but they do not look that dependable even if John could overlook their age. In case of some other candidate couple, they already have several other kids under their foster care, so they look more dependable in comparison, but, as observing their constantly busy domestic environment, John only comes to feel more uncertain about whether his son will be able to grow up well there.

Naturally, John wants to see more candidates, but he is running out of time day by day, and his increasingly weakening body often reminds him of that grim harsh truth. He still works as usual, but it becomes more apparent that there will soon be the time when he cannot possibly hide his terminal illness from his son, and he becomes more conflicted about that. Maybe he should tell everything to his son before it is too late, but he does not want to hurt his son’s feelings, and he is even not so eager to leave anything to his son. After all, he is just a common working-class dude who does not have anything to distinguish himself, so he sees no point in his son getting to know more about him later.

Nevertheless, John cannot help but feel happy whenever he spends time with his son, and the movie gives us several mundane but genuinely intimate scenes as they go through their daily routines together. While Michael can often be rather willful, John always handles his son with tender tactfulness, and there is a brief but touching moment when they casually enjoy their little free time together outside.

In addition, John also gets some consolation from an old friendly widow who has employed him for a long time. This generous lady, who could take care of his son if it were not for her old age, is ready to listen to his growing concern over his son’s welfare as well as his impending death, and her words comfort him a bit even though he does not agree much to her personal belief on afterlife.

Of course, there eventually comes a point where John must make important decisions for his son, but the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Uberto Pasolini, who was Oscar-nominated for producing “The Full Monty” (1997), does not hurry at all even at that point, and the movie sticks to its calm and phlegmatic attitude as before. You will probably not be that surprised by which candidate John will choose for his son in the end, but you may be touched by a little quiet but heartfelt scene where John carefully conveys to his son what is going to happen to him sooner or later.

Although his character is a bit too flat and colorless, James Norton, a British actor who previously drew my attention for his solid lead performance in Agnieszka Holland’s “Mr. Jones” (2019), compensates for that via his diligent acting, and he and young performer Daniel Lamont are effortless in their unadorned interactions on the screen. Right from their very first scene, they are convincing as a father and a son, and I wish the movie delved more into their characters’ relationship instead of simply regarding them from the distance.

Overall, “Nowhere Special” has some admirable qualities, but I am still hesitating to recommend it because I observed its story and characters only with a mild degree of care and attention. It is surely sincere and sensitive to the core, but it could have more substance and personality in my trivial opinion, and I will just let you decide whether you will watch it or not.

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