Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Program Length: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me? - The Beatles, "Nowhere Man"
Nowhere Boy is a riveting, superbly-acted story about the troubled teenage years of John Lennon. To say that Lennon had an unconventional family is an understatement. His father, Alf Lennon, was a merchant seaman who rarely was at home. His mother, Julia, was a fun-loving free spirit who had an affair with a Welsh soldier while Alf was away during World War II. By the time John was five years old, Julia was living with yet another man, Bobby Dykins. Although she never divorced Alf Lennon, Julia lived with Dykins for the rest of her life. While the precise reasons have never been made clear, Julia decided to place her son under the care of her older sister, Mimi. By all accounts John had little or no contact with his mother for the next six years.
Nowhere Boy opens with John (Aaron Johnson) living in Liverpool with Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband, George Smith (David Threllfall). Mimi is stern and unemotional, but John has developed a good relationship with "Uncle George." That relationship comes to a sudden end when George collapses at home and dies. John is aware of the fact that Mimi is not his mother, but Julia (Ann Marie Duff) never visits and John does not know where she lives. However, he spots her at George's funeral and that piques his interest in speaking with her. One of John's cousins knows where Julia lives, and he takes John to meet her. It turns out that all along Julia has been within walking distance of the Smith home.
The reunion is, at first, a happy one. Julia is thrilled to see him, and John is immediately drawn to her. From a personality standpoint, Julia is the polar opposite of Mimi. Julia is musical, fun-loving, and wears her emotions on her sleeve. Mimi owns a radio but only listens to classical music. Julia, on the other hand, listens to the latest hits on her phonograph and can play both the piano and the banjo. She also has had two daughters by Dykins, Julia and Jacqui. John'a mother takes him to the movies, where he is enthralled by newsreel footage of Elvis Presley. She teaches John some banjo chords, and soon he sets his sights on owning a guitar. However, the more time he spends with his mother, the more John chafes at Mimi's restrictive ways. When he is suspended from school, he hides that fact from Mimi and spends his days visiting Julia.
As his musical proficiency increases, John recruits several of his school friends to form his own band, The Quarrymen. After the group enjoys some local success, John is introduced to another Liverpool lad, Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster). John immediately recognizes that Paul has more musical talent than any of the other Quarrymen. With Paul playing lead guitar, The Quarrymen are able to perform popular rock 'n' roll instrumentals such as Duane Eddy's "Moovin' 'n' Groovin'." The band then attracts another guitarist, a young teen named George Harrison (Sam Bell). George's lead guitar on the Bill Justis hit "Raunchy" gives hints of what he, John and Paul are capable of.
Nowhere Boy, however, really is not about the roots of The Beatles. It is a coming of age love triangle, as John finds himself torn between his feelings for Julia and Mimi. As he spends more time with Julia, he begins to see her flaws. She seemingly flirts with every man she meets, and she embarrasses John by becoming the most vocal fan at Quarrymen performances. He also demonstrates that he has repressed anger at Julia for deserting him when he was five, and he cannot understand why she did it. At the same time, the disapproving Mimi offers him stability and security.
Nowhere Boy is based upon a memoir written by Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird. Aaron Johnson does not really resemble Lennon, but he certainly captures his spirit. The John Lennon we see here is cocky and quick-witted, but also temperamental and emotionally tortured by his conflicting feelings toward his mother and his aunt. Lennon apparently never completely exorcised his internal demons, but then again it may have been those very demons which drove him to be the monumental artist he became. Kristin Scott Thomas and Ann Marie Duff turn in exceptional performances as the two mums in his life.
As far as I have been able to determine, the story is, for the most part, factually accurate. The events in the film have been compressed for dramatic purposes. For example, George Smith died in 1955, a few months before Lennon's 15th birthday. In reality John started visiting his mother when he was 11, but here he is in high school when he reunites with her. The passage of subsequent time is not clearly delineated in the film, but fans of John Lennon and The Beatles will have no trouble figuring it out.
This 2.35.1 Blu-ray transfer is mostly up to Sony's typically high standards. Viewers will notice that there is an unusual color palette, particularly in indoor scenes. The lighting in those scenes has a somewhat artificial look to it, something like what you see when you take an indoor photograph without a flash. However, this appears to be a stylistic choice rather than a flaw in the transfer. The outdoor scenes are more vivid and demonstrate stronger colors. Fine detail is present throughout, and the image is, with a few minor exceptions, consistently sharp. Black levels are strong and shadow detail is excellent. The framing appears to be accurate. An appropriate level of film grain has been retained to give Nowhere Boy a pleasing, film-like appearance.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is excellent, although the soundtrack does not permit it to rise to the level of a demo disc. The dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is clear and distinct (those who have problems with British accents may want to avail themselves of the English subtitles, which are easy to read). The surround channels and subwoofer do not have much to do, but the musical numbers are given an expansive soundstage and really come to life.
The supplements on this Blu-ray disc are not extensive and are shown in standard definition.
The press release promised five deleted scenes, but only two made it to the disc. One of the scenes shows Julia being unable to explain to John why she turned him over to Mimi.
"The Making of Nowhere Boy" is a "making of" featurette which is shown at 1.85:1. It includes comments from the principal actors and the director, Sam Taylor-Wood. It runs for about eight minutes and contains some interesting insights into how the film was conceived and cast.
"Nowhere Boy: The Untold Story of John Lennon and the Creation of The Beatles" is a more substantial featurette, with a running time of 13 minutes. It includes comments by Yoko Ono (who gave the film a strong endorsement) and Steven van Zandt, as well as the film's principal cast and crew.
Sony has also included previews of Welcome to the Rileys, Get Low, and season one of the television series Justified,
BD-Live features are now available but have not been viewed by this reviewer.
The single Blu-ray disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
Nowhere Boy is an atypical rock 'n' roll biopic. It is an incisive look at a troubled, rebellious teenager who grew up under extremely unconventional circumstances, but who also happened to be exceptionally talented. Fans of The Beatles and John Lennon will definitely want to add this to their collections.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: January 25, 2011