I really wanted to love this movie. It was certainly one that I should have loved, right? I love The Beatles; I love musicals; I love movie musicals that have big visual style. All of that is present in Across The Universe and yet, as a package, the film didn’t move me one way or the other. I didn’t hate, but I didn’t love it.
Its core is the love story between Lucy and Jude and it unfolds with the turbulent late 60s as a backdrop. We witness race riots, reaction to Martin Luther King’s assassination, the drug and hippie culture and, of course, Vietnam and the war protests. Unfortunately, director Julie Taymor (a Tony Award winner for the Broadway Musical version of The Lion King) seems to rely on other films to get most of her visual imagery. There are way-too-easy comparisons to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Beatles own Yellow Submarine, Hair and bit of a nod at Moulin Rouge. Sadly, Taymor never seems to break off on her own to give us anything truly new and awe inspiring.
Even more disappointing are the overuse of Beatles in jokes. Such as Max and Jude renting a room from Sadie and she says to Max, “You look clean cut, of course you could’ve hit your grandma over the head with a hammer” (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”). Or the when Prudence arrives, climbing in to the apartment from the fire escape. Sadie asks Jude where she came from… “She came in through the bathroom window” (a song title). The biggest groan for me was the final sequence where Sadie’s band plays on top of their record company’s headquarters (lifted from the sequence made famous in The Beatles Let It Be).
Let me focus on some of the good stuff. Some of the musical sequences are really great:
- Joe Cocker plays a few roles as he performs “Come Together.”
- “Let It Be” is turned into an amazing gospel number to illustrate the pain and loss of the race riots.
- “I’ve Just Seen a Face” takes place in a bowling alley and captures the exuberance of Jude, Lucy and Max as they settle in New York.
- Bono looks for enlightenment as he rips through “I Am the Walrus.”
- Best of all is Dana Fuchs as Sadie. Her Janis Joplin sound makes “Oh Darling,” “Helter Skelter, “Don’t Let Me Down,” I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Dear Prudence” standout as excellent remakes of the classic songs.
There is one thing I hated. Eddie Izzard’s tripping his way through “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” was awful. It was part of the expected mid-film drug induced trip out, an entire bit that could have been excised (and that would’ve taken 15 to 20 minutes out of the film, making it a bit more concise).
I went into Across the Universe hoping it would either be fabulous like Moulin Rouge or at least kooky fun like the misguided Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. I didn’t expect to feel so flatlined about it in the end. There was something there that kept me from fully connecting to the characters and the story.
Now, Will, on the other hand, liked the movie, and not in a Cool Cinema Trash sort of way. I’m hoping he’ll either comment or do his own post to provide some counterpoint.
Wills 2cents: Yes, I did like the movie more than Jeff did, I think in part because I’m not that familiar with The Beatles catalog. The only songs I really know are the ones from the movies Yellow Submarine and the abominable Sgt. Peppers. I think that if you love the Beatles, chances are that you’ll hate this movie. The music of The Beatles has so many strong emotional associations for so many people that it is nearly impossible for someone to come along (hello Julie Taymor) and tweak it without people condemeneming it automatically. That being said, I liked what was done with the music and I enjoyed the performances from the six young leads. They are all appealing and talented, though I’m not sure if they all did their own vocals. I’m sure a search on IMDB would answer that question, but I’m too lazy to look it up.