The Lost Weekend, A Love Story (film review)

Fifty years later, the love story of John Lennon and May Pang is presented onscreen. The Lost Weekend, A Love Story (2023) is a long-form telling of their story in film clips, interviews and news stories. Pang has written about her and Lennon’s time together and appeared on many talk shows in the early 1990s (when she released her book, Loving John), clips of which are included in the documentary. The Lost Weekend is clearly Pang’s narrative.

Let’s back up. After the Beatles stopped working together, John and Yoko Ono had gotten married and began spending time in New York City, where they would soon relocate. Meanwhile, Pang had dropped out of college and was looking for a job. Her sight was set on Apple Records, the Beatles’ record label, which was managed by Allen Klein at the time. Hired, she was assigned to work for Lennon and Ono as a personal assistant.

In 1973, Ono informed her that Pang would be working with just Lennon, because Ono and Lennon were separating and Ono wanted Pang to be with Lennon. Weird, yes. Ono knew her husband would be with other women, but she could control Pang. And so it began.

The affair was not something that was hurtful to me,” Ono told The Telegraph in 2012. “I needed a rest. May Pang was a very intelligent, attractive woman and extremely efficient. I thought they’d be OK.” According to Pang, Ono thought the affair would last a couple of weeks.

Lennon and the Brandy Alexander group.

Pang would spend nearly two years with Lennon, most living in Los Angeles, in what was referred to as “the lost weekend.” Lennon became part of a hard drinking club that included Ringo, Harry Nilsson, Bernie Taupon, Alice Cooper, Peter Lawford, Mickey Dolenz and Keith Moon. Brandy Alexander was their drink of choice. Their drunken behavior was widely reported at the time, especially the night than Lennon got kicked out of the Troubadour.

Lennon being kicked out of the Troubadour for heckling the Smothers Brothers and being abusive.

The Lost Weekend, A Love Story is a retelling of Pang’s story, but it is really the story of four people: Pang, Lennon, Ono and Julian Lennon. Thirty years after Pang’s book, the visual storytelling aspect is tremendously effective, but that’s not the only aspect that’s engrossing. Pang developed a lifelong friendship with Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia; and an even greater relationship with Julian, who was a neglected son during Lennon and Ono’s marriage. Pang was the mortar between father and son, when Ono seemed to discourage Lennon from contact with his son.

“She was a very, lovely woman, very, very straightforward,” Pang said of Cynthia Lennon in an interview with Cinena Daily. “There’s not many people that you can talk about a situation and what you’re experiencing unless it’s somebody else that had the same experience. Me and her, we had the same thing and would talk about it.”

The interviews with Julian are poignant and somewhat sad. He’s not bitter, but clearly got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Pang retelling how Ono refused to let phone calls go through from Julian to his father are heartbreaking. Ono is portrayed as controlling and manipulative. It was her lack of control over Lennon and Pang that ended up causing Ono’s aggressive efforts to reel Lennon back in and return home. According to Pang, Ono made it clear to Lennon that he was in danger of not getting his Green Card. Did that cause him to return to Ono?

Pang’s telling of their breakup and Lennon’s life after returning to Ono, is sad and underscores what I’ve always surmised, that Lennon was weak around strong women. He had a very difficult childhood, and was raised by his domineering maternal Aunt Mimi, who really shaped his life. Lennon’s mother died and his father left early in his life. He outgrew his marriage to Cynthia, leaving her and Julian for Ono, a strong and controversial figure.

Ono had an affair of her own during the Lennon-Pang relationship, but clearly wanted Lennon back, and engineered his returned. She held Lennon under her love, charm, loyalty, guilt or spell. Whatever it was, he returned to her. Pang recounts that her and Lennon had discussed buying a house together and plans for the future. Even after he returned to Ono, Lennon still occasionally met up with Pang.

The film clips and interviews during the early 1970s are phenomenal, the filmmakers do an awesome job of storytelling through visuals and sound. This is not just Pang talking, you see events and hear Lennon’s own voice.

One of the saddest elements of the story is what happened between Lennon and Paul McCartney during this period. In the period prior to the Lennon-Pang affair, tensions were high between Lennon and McCartney, as reflected in song lyrics back and forth, but that subsided in the 1973-75 period. The film does an impressive job of recounting the times they were together, and the warmth that returned between them. They jammed together in L.A. and discussed writing in the future. Lennon had plans to visit McCartney in New Orleans in 1975 as McCartney was preparing to record Venus and Mars. But that never took place. ironically, it was McCartney who delivered a message from Ono to Lennon about reconciling. After Lennon returned to Ono, the distance between Lennon and McCartney began to grow again. Lennon the musician was replaced by Lennon the house-husband.

The film ends with Pang walking into the interview with Julian, with the two of them embracing, and at the fade-out and walking down the street together. That’s a remarkable way to conclude this story. The bond between Pang and Julian is a lasting outcome of the Lennon-Pang relationship.

“When Dad was with May, he always seemed very happy and youthful,” says Julian, 60. “She brought a light to our relationship.”

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