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Nowhere Special

There are windows throughout “Nowhere Special,” real and symbolic. Over the opening credits, we view windows, giving us glimpses of the outside and a couple of interiors in a rural Irish town. One of those windows is being carefully soaped and squeegeed by John (James Norton). He smiles at a black and white cat on the other side of the glass. James is a single dad to three-year-old Michael (an extraordinary performance by Daniel Lamont). We first see him looking through their apartment window, waiting for John to come home. As soon as Michael sees his father, he goes to the door so he can see John the instant he arrives.

John is a wonderful father, devoted, loving, engaged, and with seemingly endless patience. It cannot be endless, however. John is dying. He has only months to find a new home for Michael. As painful and difficult as that task is, there is another that is worse. John has to find a way to explain what is happening in a way that somehow makes Michael feel safe and loved and not devastated by it.

The symbolic windows give us views into other lives, as John and Michael see possible new families, arranged by the adoption agency and accompanied by a sympathetic young member of the agency staff. These scenes are reminiscent of the lovely “Away We Go,” where a couple visits several friends to help them plan what their life with a baby should be. For John, an affluent couple offers opportunities and comforts. A warm, suburban family offers a diverse array of biological and adopted children. It is not until an obviously unsuitable prospect added to the pressure of time running out that John realizes, perhaps after we do, which is the right choice. 

At first, John resists the gentle children’s book about death that the adoption agency offers, and refuses to make a “memory box” for Michael to keep. Like all parents, John wants to protect his child from learning about loss. And like all parents, he discovers that is impossible. Michael sees the other children being dropped off at school by their mothers and asks, not for the first time, where his mother is. At the park, Michael discovers a dead beetle, and John has to find a way to tell him why it is not moving and will not ever move again.  

It takes nothing from Lamont’s performance to note it is as much a tribute to Norton and skillful editing as it is to the three-year-old actor. He is completely at home with Norton, and some of the film’s most potent images are of Michael just quietly thinking or listening, absorbing the world around him. Norton is also excellent, making the most ordinary domestic moments between John and his son achingly beautiful. 

There are so many ways to go wrong with this story, which we are told was inspired by an unidentified real father and son. Writer/director Uberto Pasolini does not let that happen, relying on the most ordinary details to take on greater and greater weight. A casual comment that for a window washer rain is “another wasted day” is made to John, who needs to get the most out of every day he has left. John looks at another father helping a child. He watches an older boy walking to school. Norton’s quiet gaze tells us he is thinking of the Michael he will never get to see and all they will never share. Suddenly, the ladder John uses to reach the windows appears a longer climb. John counts out 34 candles for Michael to put on his birthday cake, knowing he will never get a 35th. Michael has a meltdown about not being able to wear his favorite pajamas. John’s response, beautifully subtle work by Norton, is endearing and utterly relatable to any parent who could not help but be touched by the ferocity of these life forces we bring into the world.

Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

Nowhere Special movie poster

Nowhere Special (2024)

96 minutes

Cast

James Norton as John

Daniel Lamont as Michael

Eileen O'Higgins as Shona

Valerie O'Connor as Ella

Stella McCusker as Rosemary

Director

Writer

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