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Nowhere Boy DVD Review

Nowhere Boy (2010) movie poster Nowhere Boy

US Theatrical Release: October 8, 2010 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Sam Taylor-Wood / Writer: Matt Greenhalgh

Cast: Aaron Johnson (John Lennon), Anne-Marie Duff (Julia Lennon), Kristin Scott Thomas (Mimi Smith), David Threlfall (Uncle George Toogood Smith), Thomas Brodie Sangster (Paul McCartney), Andrew Buchan (Michael Fishwick), Paul Ritter (Pobjoy), David Morrissey (Bobby Dykins), James Michael Johnson (Stan Parkes), Josh Bolt (Pete Shotton), Ophelia Lovibond (Marie Kennedy), Sam Bell (George Harrison), Colin Tierney (Alf Lennon), Ben Smith (Boy with Knife), Simon Lowe (Guitar Shop Guy)

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Nowhere Boy tells the story of John Lennon, or rather the story of John Lennon before he became John Lennon. This British drama focuses on the pivotal teenage years of the singer-songwriter who would change the face of music as part of The Beatles. While this destiny hangs over the film and is a large reason for its existence, director Sam Taylor-Wood and writer Matt Greenhalgh have genuine interest in the backstory, particularly the unusual circumstances of Lennon's upbringing.

The film opens with Lennon (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass), aged 16, living fairly comfortably in a suburb of Liverpool. His playful guardian uncle George (David Threlfall), a man he clearly shares a strong bond with, dies suddenly and unexpectedly. At the burial, he spots redheaded relative Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and wishes to see more of her, to his widowed Aunt Mimi's (Kristin Scott Thomas) hesitance.

A teenaged John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) shoots a loving look at his very first guitar in "Nowhere Boy." The world can thank John Lennon's absentee mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) for turning her son onto playing music with banjo lessons.

Julia, the boy's real mother, has not been a part of his life. John is surprised to learn she lives within walking distance and pleased that she welcomes him with open arms.
With his rebellious nature getting him suspended at school and widowed Mimi being too stern to allow even notification of that, John finds his birth mother's home the place to be. There, he can listen to new music and have a good time, with free-spirited Julia acting like a supportive peer. From Julia, John learns to play the banjo, planting the seeds for a more participatory role in his music appreciation.

Traditional Mimi does not approve of John's sudden plans to create a rock 'n roll band, but she takes him to buy a guitar and allows him to practice in designated areas of home. Part of the time, though, John moves in with Julia, taking over the room of one of his half-sisters while their father (David Morrissey) not so secretly disapproves. While there is tension surrounding him, Nowhere Boy doesn't try to paint this as the genesis of Lennon's genius. In fact, it doesn't really paint him as a genius, but as someone on the path towards greatness.

The film does detail the youth's initial musical ventures, as The Quarrymen are formed and 15-year-old Paul McCartney (Nanny McPhee's Thomas Brodie Sangster) somewhat reluctantly admitted. It also seizes opportunities to recognize and convey Lennon's American influences: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and the like. But ultimately, this is less about John Lennon the musician than John Lennon the teen, exploring with him the two opposite parenting styles of his two mother figures, processing the pain of Julia's absenteeism, and discovering the reasoning for his uncomfortable situation.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays John Lennon's aunt Mimi Smith, a stern but loving guardian. The early days of the fruitful partnership of John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) and Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster), then bandmates in The Quarrymen, are dramatized.

In light of this, those wanting to know all about the founding of The Beatles -- the seemingly target audience for such a project -- will have to settle for just a few tasty morsels. Part of that may be due to legal limitations; we all know how protective the surviving members of the Fab Four and the other two's estates are about their intellectual property and legacy. A larger part of it just may be that Wood and Greenhalgh would rather present an individual's coming-of-age than a more obvious and unwieldy group biopic.
Whatever the reasoning, Nowhere Boy works fairly well as an accessible, relatable telling of an unfamiliar tale in an unforgettable life.

The Beatles open and close just about any discussion of the greatest and most beloved band of all-time. I don't know if there is any discussion of historical music sales records that doesn't require reference to them. And yet, the near-unanimous goodwill towards the group and its immortalized poet didn't translate to box office glory. In fact, so tiny was Nowhere Boy's impact on the film industry that by comparison Julie Taymor's underperforming 2007 Beatles musical Across the Universe seemed almost epic. Nowhere Boy did have a much smaller release, getting sent by The Weinstein Company to just 215 theaters last October after opening in the UK and various other markets and making the US film festival circuit. When it comes to DVD and Blu-ray this week from Weinstein's temporary home video distributor Sony, most customers won't recognize the film as something that was in theaters.

One upside to such obscurity is that it has spared the film's director and star from tabloid scrutiny that would plague bigger celebrities in their position. That position is an awkward one, for 43-year-old Taylor-Wood gave birth to Johnson's child last summer, just three weeks after he turned 20. Shortly after conception, they announced their engagement. At least as Brits theirs can't be considered a Hollywood marriage.

Nowhere Boy (2010) DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($30.95 SRP)


Like most Sony DVDs, Nowhere Boy looks great. The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer is remarkably clean and vibrant, although small parts of the frame sometimes have a blurred, out-of-focus look (presumably true to the filming). The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack isn't as dynamic as you might expect, but it too is fine, delivering no Beatles and just one Lennon song but plenty of influential '50s rock and cast performances.

Director Sam Taylor-Wood explains avoiding lookalike casting in "The Making of 'Nowhere Boy'." Lennon widow Yoko Ono gives the film her blessing in her pre-premiere remarks shown in "The Untold Story..."


The DVD offers a bit less in the way of bonus features than you might expect of such a project.

First up are just two deleted scenes (3:50), which depict interesting but uneventful encounters of John with Julia and love interest Marie (Ophelia Lovibond).
The original press release mentioned three additional cuts oddly not found here.

The only other extras that are found here are a couple of promotional but insightful making-of featurettes. As standard as its title, "The Making of Nowhere Boy" (7:45) sprinkles clips from the film between comments by cast and crew. "Nowhere Boy: The Untold Story of John Lennon and the Creation of the Beatles" (13:09) pulls different footage from the same interview sessions. To that, it adds red carpet and introductory footage from the film's premiere (including encouraging remarks by Yoko Ono) and some perspective and praise from Beatles historian Martin Lewis.

In lieu of the Sony's usual multiple pages of individually-accessible trailers, the "Previews" listing merely replays the same handful of ads which play automatically at disc insertion. These promote Blu-ray, Welcome to the Rileys, Get Low, and "Justified": The Complete First Season.

The static, silent menus have a small studio made-for-TV movie feel to them, with a scrapbooky design that diverges from the theatrical one-sheet and video cover art.

Young John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) connects with his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) in a friendly way.


Nowhere Boy is a well-acted, well-structured dramatization of John Lennon's adolescence. It chooses to hint at his musical legacy while delving more into his familial strain, but remains satisfactory (if slightly pedestrian) on both fronts. Don't be discouraged that this little film came and went quietly and earned few award season nods outside of England. This is an interesting presentation of an interesting story, regardless of your appreciation for Lennon and The Beatles. The DVD provides a great feature presentation and a couple of solid making-of featurettes, though you might be surprised not to find more, or at least a commentary. Nevertheless, this is worth a look.

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Nowhere Boy Songs List (in order of use): Jerry Lee Lewis - "Wild One", "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake", Dickie Valentine - "Mr. Sandman", Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats - "Rocket 88", Elvis Presley - "Shake Rattle & Roll", Wanda Jackson - "Hard Headed Woman", Screamin' Jay Hawkins - "I Put a Spell on You", Aaron Johnson - "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear", Anne-Marie Duff - "Maggie May", Aaron Johnson - "That'll Be the Day", Eddie Bond & The Stompers - "Rockin' Daddy", The Nowhere Boys - "Maggie May", Sam Bell & Patrick Murdoch - "Twenty Flight Rock", Aaron Johnson & Thomas Brodie Sangster - "Blue Moon", The Nowhere Boys - "That's All Right", The Nowhere Boys - "Movin' N' Groovin", The Nowhere Boys - "Raunchy", Big Mama Thornton - "Hound Dog", Sam Bell - "Love Me Tender", David Whitfield - "My Son John", Gene Vincent - "Be-Bop-A-Lula", Sam Bell - "Hello Little Girl", The Nowhere Boys - "In Spite of All the Danger", John Lennon - "Mother"

Nowhere Boy: Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture:
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Reviewed January 23, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 The Weinstein Company, Film4, UK Film Council, Northwest Vision and Media, Lipsync Productions, Hanway Films, Ecosse Films, and 2011 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.