Sony // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // January 25th, 2011
The extraordinary untold story of John Lennon.
On his 2004 album Feelin' Kinda Patton, the great comedian Patton Oswalt does a routine about moments of irony in our lives; something that will come into play again later in life, causing us to reflect back on that seemingly inconsequential incident and see that it might have played a predictive role in things to come. The example he cites on the album is watching a scene in a movie about future Beatle Paul McCartney in which he looks in the window of a music store and dreams of owning one of the guitars on display (ironic, of course [but not really] because he would go on to be one of the most important and influential pop musicians of all time). Watching the trailers for the 2009 film Nowhere Boy -- about a young John Lennon in his pre-Beatle days -- it was impossible to shake Oswalt's routine out of my head. Impossible because so much of the movie depends on exactly the type of scene he describes so well. It's that scene stretched to feature length.
Ok, not exactly. But there is an endless series of references and signposts to the man young John would eventually become, to the point where it sometimes borders on unintentional comedy. More than once (this was particularly true in the trailer), characters refer to him as "John Lennon," as though we might forget about whom we are watching a movie. When Todd Haynes constructs a biopic of Bob Dylan out of little more than references and signposts, I don't really mind. His I'm Not There wasn't so much a traditional narrative biopic as it was an experimental semiotic exercise (also, I really love that movie). In Nowhere Boy, however, it's difficult to shake the feeling that director Sam Taylor-Wood and screenwriter Douglas Rae just want to keep reminding us: "Don't you get it? He's John Lennon!"
Aaron Johnson (of Kick-Ass) does good work as the young Lennon, a somewhat troubled kid with difficulty focusing on traditional tasks like schoolwork; he'd much rather stir up trouble, chase girls, and listen to records. That is, until he picks up a guitar and rock music becomes his full-time obsession. The majority of Nowhere Boy isn't so much about Lennon becoming a rock star, but rather about his relationships with two very different women: Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, Mission: Impossible) -- the stern but supportive taskmaster who basically raised Lennon -- and his fun-loving, bohemian mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff, Notes on a Scandal). Yes, he does start up the band that eventually becomes The Quarrymen (and eventually becomes The Beatles), meaning we also get to meet a young Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, better known as the lovesick little boy in Love Actually).
Nowhere Boy certainly isn't a bad movie -- it's well-made and very well-acted -- but it rarely transcends what we've come to expect from the traditional biopic. Anyone looking for a better understanding of John Lennon isn't going to find much here beyond some family drama and the requisite tragedy (it's in every musician biopic), though Aaron Johnson does a good job of creating the confidence, swagger and edge that made Lennon such a singular personality -- you just knew he was going to be a huge star. Even the tug of war between the two women raising Lennon fails to generate much drama, essentially repeating the same "This one's loopy, this one's responsible" structure over and over again. I'm guessing that Nowhere Boy will appeal most to Beatles fans, who will enjoy seeing the early days of one of their heroes dramatized, will get chills during the line "Paul McCartney, meet John Lennon" (or some approximation thereabouts), and will love the recreation of the group's early live performances. The musical numbers lack the energy and immediacy of Backbeat (the 1994 film about the Beatles in Hamburg), but Nowhere Boy is a better movie overall.
Nowhere Boy arrives on Blu-ray with few frills courtesy of Sony. The 2.35:1, full 1080p HD image looks very good, with strong detail, deep blacks, and naturalistic colors. It's not the kind of disc that's going to make any new HD converts, but this isn't a show-offy movie, either. It's a strong, film-like transfer that's pretty much the standard now for Blu-rays. The same goes for the 5.1 DTS-HD audio track, which handles the dialogue clearly and provides a bit more power during the musical numbers. It's serviceable but not remarkable, even though the standard for "serviceable" is considerably higher when we're talking about Blu-ray.
The disc comes up way short in the bonus features department, though, offering only two deleted scenes and a couple of standard featurettes for supplements: "The Making of Nowhere Boy" and "Nowhere Boy: The Untold Story of John Lennon and the Creation of The Beatles." A title like this cries out for more in-depth biographical features, allowing us to compare the real-life story with the fictionalized portrayal we see in Nowhere Boy. Since the film is likely going to appeal to Beatles fans more than movie fans, it would have been nice to offer up more content for them.
Since I brought up Backbeat, it's worth noting that film picks up pretty much right where Nowhere Boy leaves off. Perhaps the two movies would make an interesting double bill. Personally, I'll be watching A Hard Day's Night. I don't have much need to see an actor play John Lennon as a kid, when I can watch the real guy demonstrate scene after scene why he was such a star.
Goo goo g'joob.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes