Directed by Michael Epstein

A more accurate title for Michael Epstein’s lively, if somewhat cursory documentary would probably be John Lennon in the ‘70s.  While the film begins with Lennon and his wife/collaborator/support system Yoko Ono leaving England behind for a flat in New York City’s Greenwich Village, the bulk of the picture focuses on the man rather than the city.  To be fair, one of the things that’s often said about New York is that people come to the city to reinvent themselves and that’s precisely what Lennon was attempting to do in the wake of The Beatles’ earth-shattering break-up.  In that way I suppose the movie does tell a classic New York story, but even so Epstein could have spent more time exploring the city’s direct impact on Lennon’s life and music.  (It seems like a major oversight, for example, to not even mention when and why Lennon and Ono moved into their famous Upper West Side apartment in The Dakota.)  Instead, he adopts a standard “decade in the life of…” structure, while also employing a narrative throughline that’s reminiscent of a classic coming-of-age story.  As Epstein tells it, Lennon and Ono arrive in the city as fiery young revolutionaries, ready to lend their fame to social and political causes.  In between rallies, they get caught up in the headiness of ‘70s Village life—with lots of late night parties where alcohol and drugs flow freely—which eventually takes its toll on their relationship.  After enduring one humiliation too many, Ono exiles Lennon to Los Angeles (entrusting his care to one of her friends who—it’s strongly implied though never stated directly— became his mistress) where he lives for some time before returning to New York and cleans up his act, just in time to reunite with Yoko and welcome their son Sean into the world.  The latter half of the ‘70s finds Lennon happily playing the role of family man and occasional musician until his tragic 1980 murder at the hands of Mark David Chapman.  Although LennonNYC doesn’t offer a lot of new insights into Lennon’s artistry or his much-analyzed relationship with Ono (who is a producer on the film and is interviewed extensively throughout), Epstein has unearthed some terrific archival footage as well as previously unheard audio recordings, like a sweet moment where Sean and John sing along to “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which the then-five year old calls his favorite Beatles song.  More than anything though, the movie functions as a potent reminder of what a charismatic figure John Lennon was.  Passionate and thoughtful with a razor-sharp wit, his star power hasn’t dimmed at all with the passage of time.  Even in this superficial telling, Lennon’s life story remains a source of inspiration.