He’s a man who sees into other people’s lives. From the top of his ladder, window cleaner John (James Norton) can’t avoid looking through the glass and getting a snapshot of their homes, their places of work, little worlds in their own right and all totally different from his own. Nowhere Special takes us behind the windows on his world, where the focus is entirely on his little son, Michael (Daniel Lamont).
Father and son are inseparable and the boy is simply too young to understand that they will soon be parted. John has terminal cancer and is doing his best to secure Michael’s future by finding him a new home and family. It’s not easy: all the potential adoptive parents they meet don’t seem right – some more than others – John is wracked with guilt about what he’s doing and Michael is painfully quiet and shy in the presence of strangers. As they go through the list of possibles, John’s condition is worsening and both time and hope seem to be running out.
You know well before the halfway point that you’ll be crushed by the time the end of the story arrives, but nothing prepares you for the devastating simplicity of how director Uberto Pasolini achieves the moment that catches your throat and triggers your tears. This is no weepy, but a deeply moving and tender portrait of a devoted single parent balancing caring for his son with the pressure that goes with the life changing decision he has to make on the boy’s behalf, one that’s getting relentlessly closer. Apart from the scenes involving the possible adoptive families, Pasolini concentrates on the two – their daily routines, their conversations and their trips to the park – and the intimate camerawork takes us right to the heart of their lives.
In their small world, the pair don’t go anywhere “special”, but that’s where the film’s power lies – an ordinary man facing an extraordinary decision, which makes every moment of their time together so precious. The domestic scenes are underlined by sequences of the two outdoors when we never hear what they say to each other: we don’t need to because their expressions – and moments such as when John ends up with ice cream over half his face – say everything. Pasolini is equally delicate and restrained in his treatment of death and bereavement, using the bare minimum of dialogue and often simply focussing on Michael’s innocent and unknowing face while emotions swirl around him.
Norton is superb as John. It’s a challenging role, one that demands his expressions speak louder than the dialogue and it’s a testament to his continued growth as an actor that he constantly emphasises the agony that goes with confronting his decision rather than simply making us feel sorry for him. The portrayal of the father-son relationship – Lamont is adorable – is as authentic as they come and the fact that we’ve shared John’s secret from early on makes it even more touching to watch. It’s a beautifully made film with a deceptive simplicity and one that will simply break your heart. Nowhere Special is very special.
Drama | Cert: 12A | Curzon | Cinemas | 16 July 2021 | Dir. Uberto Pasolini | James Norton, Daniel Lamont, Valerie Kane, Eileen O’Higgins and Chris Corrigan.
Watch our interviews with actor James Norton and writer/director Uberto Pasolini here.