In the years before his fabled return, John Lennon did have a particularly disheartening 1976. Paul McCartney was riding high on the success of “Wings at the Speed of Sound”; Lennon had lost a good friend, his father and a close aunt, and Yoko Ono, after the birth of Sean, had been in and out of his life at their spacious apartment in New York’s Dakota. Buying into a story/fable from Albert Goldman’s “The Lives of John Lennon,” the ex-Beatle was developing a love affair with high-grade heroin — which makes it plausible that he would actually not shoo away his childhood chum McCartney if, perchance, he showed up unannounced at the door of the Dakota.
“Two of Us” is Mark Stanfield’s fictionalized account of the day McCartney (Aidan Quinn) paid a visit to Lennon (Jared Harris) when the two were at opposite spectrums of the music world. McCartney had the No. 1 song and album and was starting the U.S. leg of a world tour that would keep him busy for the next six months; Lennon was holed up, even “retired” as one fan says in the telepic, after several years of debauchery in Los Angeles. With no use for the recording studio or touring, he was wearing the title of househusband yet neither fighting nor embracing it.
McCartney drops in on Lennon, hoping he’ll accept the surprise, which he does with suspicion and, one suspects, envy. Lennon puts down McCartney yet they find their bonds haven’t been completely severed by the Beatles’ divorce. They smoke dope, meditate, cook popcorn, play piano together, share thoughts on their dying parents and begin to repair one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest relationships.
Honest and forced, the dialogue lends some emotional heft to this fictional biopic about two musicians. Stanfield’s script makes neither a hero nor villain and McCartney, who becomes more and more subservient as the film rolls on, is in character with what can be gleaned from the history books.
Telepic takes fair amount of time to find its footing as these two characters fight their way back to friendship, even if it’s only for a day. Quinn, who looks too old to be McCartney and struggles to keep his accent steady, plays the role with a confidence that suggests McCartney no longer needs Lennon’s approval.
Harris, whose Lennon is charming while still unlikable, never captures the glee with which Lennon expressed his wit and his lines fall short of the deftness of tongue for which Lennon was known.
Ostensibly a two-hander, pic gathers some steam when they venture into Central Park — disguised — and then to an Italian restaurant before heading home. Lennon is initially afraid to venture out, checking to make sure Mercury isn’t in retrograde before stepping across the street into an autumn Saturday in the park. They encounter a reggae band and then a pair of cops on horseback, treating both with oddball chicanery.
Their strongest interaction occurs over cappuccino and chocolate with McCartney still in disguise and Lennon willing to sit exposed. He is confronted by fans and, naturally, insults them all before heading home and venturing onto the roof of the Dakota.
Not coincidentally, they discuss their most famous visit to a roof. (“Let It Be” was also helmed by “Two of Us” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg). Once they head back inside, Lorne Michaels is making his pledge to get the Beatles to reunite on “Saturday Night Live,” offering $3,000 for them to perform three songs. Lennon pops up and shout’s “Let’s do it.” Ah, if only…
Review tape supplied by VH1 was a rough cut that had only temp music. It is in desperate need of a score that at least suggests some of the magical music Lennon and McCartney wrote and recorded.