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The life and times of John Lennon have been documented for the screen on several occasions, with each film endeavoring to probe the specialized madness of the reluctantly bespectacled musician who changed the world. "Nowhere Boy" travels back to Lennon's formative years, looking to dramatize the unique domestic quagmire that helped to shape his fractured personality. Occasionally energetic, but primarily frantic, "Nowhere Boy" appears more fascinated with melodrama than investigation, mashing down Lennon's surprisingly complex adolescence into a flavorless paste.
Raised by his fiercely disciplinarian Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), John Lennon (Aaron Johnson, "Kick-Ass") grew to be a rascally teenager, finding difficulty focusing on his education, much to the irritation of his guardian. Ready to confront his distorted past, John seeks out his biological mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), a flighty, troubled woman doing her best to drown out her problems with rock 'n' roll and a superficial show of domestic stability. Thrilled to have her son back in her life, Julia takes John in, teaching him guitar and the value of showmanship. John, torn between the consistency of Aunt Mimi and the tumultuous emotion of Julia, turns to music to calm the storm inside his head, forming a band with a pipsqueak named Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster).
To the film's credit, "Nowhere Boy" does seek out a rare side of Lennon to inspect, stepping back to his hotheaded days of perpetual clowning and mushrooming musical interest. Perhaps not as glamorous a tale as the rise of The Beatles, but an emotional journey worth taking, looking to step inside Lennon's inspirations and uncontrollable urges.
Handed to director Sam Taylor-Wood, a short film ace, "Nowhere Boy" is a scattered experience, working between the difficulties at home and the development of Lennon's interest in sex, with the line blurred a touch by the reintroduction of the flirtatious Julia into his life. Taylor-Wood captures the turbulence of these prime Lennon years, as he struggled to pull his identity out from the wreckage of his upbringing, but the picture lacks needed grit to press the turmoil. The film turns quickly to screaming hysterics to make points of frustration, playing much too primal, breaking the hold of the performances and the struggles at hand. While visual elements are settled and Taylor-Wood shows a great command of soundtrack selections, she doesn't bring a substantial dramatic pause to the picture, diluting the impact by introducing television movie histrionics.
Obviously, The Beatles are touched upon, but it's a distraction, where the more compelling points of the script are found between Aunt Mimi, John, and Julia. A triangle of secrets and resentment, "Nowhere Boy" finds freshness detailing their tentative reunion, nicely brought to life by Thomas and Duff, who supply the film with a bracing sense of discomfort. Johnson's performance is more of a mixed bag, as he's clearly unable to keep up with the rest of the cast. Aside from the fact that Johnson looks nothing like Lennon, the actor lacks a certain working-class edge that sells the desperate leap to rock fame.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) works for a period look, with soft lighting and bulging colors, reflecting an idealized time of lush hues. The presentation holds the cinematographic intent comfortably, supplying a lovely read of set design nuances and costume colors, with reds and yellows leaping off the screen. Detail is strong, providing a full view of the environment changes and close-up acting choices, with skintones natural and expressive. Shadow detail runs a touch muddy during evening sequences, but remains in a primarily supportive state.
The DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix holds dialogue exchanges to the front, keeping the conversations and arguments clear and comfortable, making the accents inviting and expressive. Soundtrack cuts tend to slice through the film, suddenly boosting the mix with a vigorous hit of rock music, while scoring cues are comfortably laced through the drama. Musical sequences are thoughtfully separated and evocative, gifted a pleasing echo to reinforce the energy of the room. Surrounds are useful for crowd sequences and street life, communicating the bustle without bleeding into the dialogue.
English and English SDH subtitles are offered.
"Deleted Scenes" (3:55) include a moment of bedroom discomfort between John and Julia, and a scene of vulnerability between John and one of his girlfriends.
"The Making of 'Nowhere Boy'" (7:46) probes the cast and crew for their feelings on John Lennon, and how they approached the daunting task of documenting his early life. It's a brief featurette stuffed with clips, but the chats are enlightening, revealing a certain caution about the project.
"'Nowhere Boy: The Creation of John Lennon and The Beatles" (13:10) returns to the creation of the film, this time bringing in some music experts and even Yoko Ono (for a brief flash) to explore the story behind the story. Again, more film clips than interviews are offered here, with the featurette only capturing a moderate historical perspective.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Nowhere Boy" is an uneven film, perhaps more instructional than enlightening. Still, it's pleasing to find new areas of John Lennon to appreciate, with the picture valuing the drive that took him from a troubled clown to a musical deity.