For more than 50 years, Yoko Ono has occupied an omnipresent and often controversial presence in our media landscape. Her artistic output is perpetual — she just released a new album, the relentlessly strange Warzone, last week. While Ono is an accomplished activist and avant-garde artist in her own right, she is still best known for her tumultuous relationship with John Lennon from 1968 to Lennon’s death in 1980.
In early 2017, Ono began working with Oscar-nominated producers Michael De Luca (The Social Network, Moneyball, Captain Phillips) and Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) to develop a film about the iconic couple with McCarten also handling writing duties.
Biopics constitute an inescapable part of modern film. Despite their ubiquity, most fail to compellingly chronicle a cultural icon or era. Instead, too many of them are devoid of any semblance of authenticity, recycling the same formulas and — especially when one of the subjects of the film is involved — glossing over events that present their eulogized protagonists as unflattering, vile, or unsympathetic.
Because Ono joined forces with McCarten — the creative force behind lackluster, unobjectionable biopics, the latest of which is the poorly received Bohemian Rhapsody — this untitled Ono/Lennon biopic was on a trajectory to become a run-of-the-mill work. De Luca initially stated the film “will focus on the ripe and relevant themes of love, courage, and activism in the US.” Based on this pitch, the biopic seemed primed to deliver crowd-pleasing fluff.
However, now it looks like the project may have found a savior: filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée is attached to direct the biopic, as reported by Deadline.
While not everyone is head-over-heels for his penchant for non-linear storytelling and off-kilter editing, Vallée has nonetheless established himself as one of film and television’s most formidable auteurs, proven by his work for Sharp Objects, Big Little Lies, and Wild. In addition to directing to Ono/Lennon project, Vallée will also re-write the script with McCarten, which suggests that the filmmaker will imbue the story with more of his signature ambition and lyrical, unorthodox voice.
As a filmmaker who often explores the darker sides of humanity, Vallée’s unique sensibilities make him a fitting choice to render Ono and Lennon’s story, one latent with adversity, self-destruction, and drug abuse. In 1968, while Lennon’s then-wife Cynthia Lennon was on vacation in Greece, the Beatle invited Ono to his house, where they spent the night creating the dreadfully experimental Two Virgins album and commenced their affair.
John and Cynthia eventually divorced, and he and Ono were married in 1969, though their relationship was hardly smooth sailing. Heroin, estrangement from their children, and unhealthy codependency informed their marriage. Ono was subjected to racist and sexist rhetoric in the media and was often blamed for the Beatles disbanding in 1970. After a few turbulent years of marriage, the couple separated in 1973 but reconciled the following year.
While details about the project remain scarce, it would not be surprising to see Vallée examine the pain and thunderous nature of Lennon and Ono’s marriage — if his past cinematic television forays are any indication. Lennon was, putting it lightly, a troubled person who mistreated his lovers. A lesser filmmaker would likely cover up the misconduct evident in Lennon and Ono’s relationship — experiencing an enactment of one of the world’s most revered musicians’ infidelity wouldn’t exactly make for a super lighthearted, crowd-pleasing romp.
However, Vallée — a filmmaker who constantly unnerves audiences and foregrounds morally depraved characters — seems fit and ready to thoroughly address the unprincipled, uncomfortable events pervading the affair. After all, just about every character in Sharp Objects is insufferable, cruel, or nefarious in some way or another, including Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), the show’s central protagonist. Notably, in Big Little Lies, Vallée delicately and poignantly explored the impacts of domestic abuse and infidelity. The filmmaker, therefore, is more than capable of portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly of Ono and Lennon’s relationship.
While this Ono/Lennon project was initially on the path to becoming a standard biopic, Vallée’s newly announced control over the project is promising and intriguing. We’ll keep track of the biopic’s further developments, but in the meantime, we can all fantasize over the casting of Lennon and Ono. Me, I can’t help but “imagine” Paul Rudd as Lennon.