Across the Universe (2007)

Wrote this awhile back, and it’s a passable enough musical, deducted half a point because my Beatles love has increased.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of The Beatles (I have become at the very least, super interested in The Beatles since), I certainly do recognise their influence on pop culture the entire world ’round since their debut over 40 years ago. To say that they changed things would be a very large understatement. I’m also not super-familiar with their entire song catalogue, which is why when I saw the trailers for Across the Universe a couple months back, I had no idea that the song “I’ve Just Seen a Face” was a Beatles tune. I thought it was a super-catchy ditty, and the visual spectacle that unfolded throughout the trailer definitely made me want to see the movie, whenever it finally came out. Just from that trailer, I could tell that it was Moulin Rouge!-esque, but minus the almost freakishly odd Baz Luhrmann.

Screenplay writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais take a less anachronistic approach to incorporating Beatles songs into a full-blown musical feature film, placing the time period and characters of the film in the exact place where The Beatles became world famous. Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a young dock worker from Liverpool, heading off to the bright lights of America to find his father (Robert Clohessy) and seek out a change from the drearyness of his everyday life. Soon after arriving, Jude befriends Max (Joe Anderson) and meets Max’s younger sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), and all three of them eventually make their way to New York. Once there, they meet other like-minded individuals in the Janis Joplin-esque singe Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the shy introverted Prudence (T.V. Carpio), and the talented guitarist JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy). The film then follows these core characters as they deal with love, rock ‘n roll, drugs and the Vietnam War, all the while expressing themselves through the songs of The Beatles.

Apparently these characters are living in a world that has never known The Beatles, since none of the non-singing characters ever comes right out and says “Hey, why are you singing that Beatles tune?” Musicals are a strange beast to adapt to the screen, since the entire genre pretty much requires the biggest suspension of disbelief imaginable in films. It’s one thing to see an explosive action film and point out all the ridiculous contrivancies that pop up, it’s another to just accept that people are bursting into song as a means of communicating their inner emotions to others. That being said, Taymor finds a way to make it successful at least half of the time. Sometimes it comes across as forced, sometimes painfully predictable/on the nose, sometimes happily predictable, but there’s no way the structure of the film is going to please everybody.

This is a film that will garner more than a few Oscar nominations (it received only one in Costume Design), though more than likely only in the technical and costuming categories, not in the high prestige acting categories. That isn’t to say that the acting isn’t top notch, because all around the cast does a passable job with their performances. It’s hard to really quantify them as “acting” per se, since most of their work is simply singing the works of The Beatles. Still, the emotions, inflections and reinterpretations the cast puts into their vocal stylings are quite stirring and could conceivably jog a few tears from people, particularly T.V. Carpio’s nearly-heart-wrenching performance as Prudence. Taymor doesn’t put much into the development of the characters, so you take what you can get from the singing bits.

There are some simply wonderful and beautiful scenes throughout Across the Universe, but as a full-length feature film, it works better as a wondrous trailer. It’s definitely worth giving a view if you have the chance, or if you’re a diehard Beatles fan I suppose. Keep an eye peeled for a couple of fun celebrity cameos from the likes of Eddie Izzard, Joe Cocker and Salma Hayek. And Bono too I guess. As a complete package, the film is a bit lacking in the emotional resonance department and there’s a bit of dragging throughout, but otherwise is a relatively enjoyable way to spend a couple hours.

2.5 / 5

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About SkoochXC
Long-time blogger, Canadian, cine-snark-aphile, Tweeter and generally lonely hearted guy.

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