NOWHERE SPECIAL – Review (2024)


James Norton plays an Irish single father of a 4-year-old boy in director Uberto Pasolini’s touching, bittersweet drama about a loving parent trying to do the right thing for his son.

James Norton plays an Irish single father of a 4-year-old boy in this touching drama about a loving parent trying to do the right thing for his son while he still has time. Directed by Uberto Pasolini, this Ireland-set family drama has delightful, wholly believable, even funny scenes between father and son, a sweet but independent-minded four-year-old, scenes which will bring a smile of recognition from parents. The other side of this tale is more bittersweet, because of what the father is trying to do: find the right new family and home for his son, before his terminal cancer robs him of that ability. The charm of those warm, funny everyday moments between father and son, and the remarkable chemistry between James Norton and young Daniel Lamont as four-year-old Michael, are the keys to why this film is perfectly balanced, between the sweet appeal of those father and son moments and the heartbreak of the situation the father is in, in this impressively-acted, moving, bittersweet tale.

Inspired by a true story, director Uberto Pasolini handles all this with great skill. This whole story takes place in an ordinary modest world of a low-income working man, and we see him deal with ordinary difficulties of life, like car breakdowns, preschool issues, working enough to affording groceries and the bills, even as his health fades. It is a dramatic story but Pasolini tells it is a way that avoids melodrama or sentimentality. Keeping it grounded and subtle makes it far more affecting, particularly with Norton’s fine performance, and the film’s wonderful father-son connection.

John (James Norton) is a self-employed window washer who is a single parent to his son Michael (Daniel Lamont). Mom is not in the picture, having been overwhelmed with parenthood after their partying pre-child lifestyle, and she left shortly after Michael’s birth to return to her family in Russia. Faced with parenthood on his own, dad stepped up, changed his life and became the responsible parent his son needed. Now at 35, John has built a stable, happy life for his son. His cancer diagnosis came as a shock, but even more so when he was given only a few months to live. John is now determined to use those remaining months to find the perfect new home for his son, while concealing what is happening to his health.

Often in real life, we see this parenting situation go the other way, with dads bolting and moms stepping up to be the responsible parent. It is one of several things that makes this quiet little family drama so good and so unusual. Another are the fine performances, and the realistic, down-to-earth way the story is told. Those charming father and son scenes help us cope with the father’s hard circ*mstances and choices, and give the film a little lightness and even touches of humor through Michael’s childish antics.

The father works with a social worker and a placement agency to find the one family who is right for his son, while trying to keep everything in Michael’s life as normal and steady as possible. It is not always easy, coping with all the usual challenges of life and parenthood, while struggling to keep working to pay their bills despite failing health, and still continuing his quest to find the perfect new home for Michael. The film alternates between those wonderful scenes with dad and son, and dad going about his work as a window washer, coping with ordinary life, and his meetings with the social workers helping him find the right home for the little boy. From time to time, the father and son visit homes of prospective parents, some of whom seem good candidates and some that don’t.

Something that will seem surprising to American audiences is how much help this single father gets from the social agencies and the time the caring social workers spend with him, as well as the lengths they will go to in helping him find the best home for his son. It is a portrait of a completely different, much more functional system than typical in this country.

That alternating pattern of scenes with just father and son and scenes of the father’s work and search, give us a needed emotional break from the difficulties the father faces. Every scene is presented in a realistic way, free of over-blown emotion, just quiet but touching moments in which the actors weave their magic. The photography is likewise subtle, unobtrusive but effective, giving everything an appealing naturalness.

Despite the ticking clock of his diagnosis, the father is remarkable picky about the family he will accept. He is looking for a magic combination of parents who will understand his son and those whose home has the right warmth and stability. Some of the homes he visits seem so good – well-off parents that can offer his son an education and future John never could and in a large home in a beautiful, semi-rural setting – that you wonder why he is still searching. But something isn’t quite right, so the search goes on. Some parents are more working-class like John, others more financially well-off and upper-class. Some have other children, others looking to adopt a first child. Some families are warm, others relaxed, others more strict. There are suburban ones, city ones; some down-to-earth, and some that look wonderful at first but reveal their darker side when he visits. Still he hesitates.

At first, John is certain about the kind of family he is searching for but as he meets them, he becomes less certain of whether he can judge them on a brief meeting and whether he knows his son well enough to make this decision for him, one that will impact his whole childhood. We eventually learn a but more about the dad’s own family history to give us insight on why he is working so hard to find the perfect home. Dad also is determined to conceal his illness from his son, who he thinks is too young to understand. John hopes to move him to another loving home before that illness becomes too obvious. That is a lot of pressure on this hard-working, loving, single parent.

James Norton is remarkable in this role, expressing the emotional complexity of the father’s feelings in a nuanced, layered performance. The scenes with the boy are magical, so filled with a perfect mix of lightness and real life, that we almost forget what is going on with the dad, a perfect escape for us as well as the father. Young Daniel Lamont is impressive as the boy, and was actually four-years-old at the time. He has a strong on-screen presence, even at times bringing to mind Jackie Coogan in Chaplin’s THE KID. Lamont speaks few words but his expressive face and eyes do it all, engaging with Norton and conveying a curious child who seems to know his own mind despite his young age. Norton does a marvelous job with the young actor, and he also effectively lets us see how the father’s joy in those moments with his on propel him forward as he deals with his increasingly life. As John races time to find the right home, that perfect fit, Norton also portrays him coming to grips with his own mortality, in between hard work as a window cleaner, dealing with difficult customers, school issues and ordinary life.

NOWHERE SPECIAL is remarkable, touching film, a quiet little drama that is hard to forget, and which finds a perfect balance between the warmth and often playful appeal of the father and son scenes, and the heartbreak of the father’s situation and his daunting task of finding the perfect new home for his son. The film’s low key approach lets the actors’ performances shine through, making this a much more moving film than something heavy on sentimentality would have been.

NOWHERE SPECIAL opens May 10, 2024 in theaters.

RATING: 3 out of 4 stars


Related ItemsAdoptionDramafather and sonIrishJames NortonNOWHERE SPECIALsingle parentUberto Pasolini

NOWHERE SPECIAL – Review (2024)
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