Rating: 4 out of 5.

A sweet, tearjerking drama, Nowhere Special will make viewers think twice about making the most of their time left on this earth. As grim as it sounds, all living things must eventually die, and life is forced to carry on without us in it. Planning ahead for the reality of death can be particularly hard, but how about throwing in the extra variable of a kid whose mom has bolted for the hills? How does one explain the concept of adoption to their child, while also preparing them for an era where they must be absent?

This is the primary concept of Nowhere Special, and it truly does not need any bells and whistles beyond this. The audience pretty much knows what we will get going in. Perhaps in the hands of a lesser creative team, Nowhere Special would be a manipulative tearjerker about a dad saying goodbye to his son; writer/director Uberto Pasolini elevates the script with a yearning heartbreak and passion. This isn’t some disposable surface-level drama; Nowhere Special is a carefully-constructed movie about facing death and fear, and carving out a path for the only person you love to exist beyond you.

John (a vulnerable performance from James Norton), at only 35, is given a prognosis no one wants to hear: he has only a few months left to live. Before facing his own feelings about this devastating news, John throws himself into the reality of finding a new family for his three-year-old son Michael (Daniel Lamont), a seemingly insurmountable task. What will they tell Michael in the future, that his mom left him and his father died? John grapples with next steps, let alone approaching a way he can make Michael comprehend what is happening.

The chemistry between Norton and Lamont is the entire foundation of the movie, and this is where Nowhere Special really soars. Whether it is celebrating a birthday, going on a safari, or reading to Michael, the child is clearly everything to John. I cannot even fathom knowingly leaving such a young child behind without the security blanket of knowing they are going to another close family member. Each time John tries to tell Michael that daddy is “not so young anymore,” he seems to hesitate when trying to reveal more beyond this.

It comes as little surprise to me that Nowhere Special is based on a true story. The ending is like a dagger in one’s heart, but it is weirdly hopeful in the same breath. A healthy dose of realism is welcome, and that the movie never loses its focus on the relationship between John and Michael is its largest accomplishment. Perhaps part of my connection to the film lies in losing my mother over the last couple years—the message of this movie about what will be left behind once we are no longer physically here touched me in a way difficult to put to words. This is a special film, and one I have no doubt will touch many others upon its release.

Nowhere Special screened at the 2022 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

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