Julie Taymor, the director of Titus and Frida, is an odd bird. She doesn't seem to be content with ordinary films, and when she goes weird, she goes really, really weird. Thankfully, with exception to a 15-minutes bit in the middle, Across the Universe is one of her more normal movies. Sort of.
Across the Universe is set during the chaotic 1960's, and follows a young man named Jude (Jim Sturgess, who my female friend instantly fell in love with due to his dashing looks, accent and ability to sing) who comes to the U.S. to look for his father and ends up falling in love with an American teenager named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood, who I am quite captivated by other than the fact that she has a really odd taste in real-life boyfriends). The two find themselves in New York as protests against the Vietnam War increase, and while Jude finds solace in just being with Lucy and expressing himself through his art, Lucy takes a more hard line approach to the "revolution".
Oh, did I mention Across the Universe was a musical? A musical full of Beatles songs?
From a purely musical viewpoint, Across the Universe has an absolutely incredible soundtrack. I'm not a die hard fan of The Beatles, but this movie takes full advantage of their best songs. Not only are the "re-mixes" often hair-tingling, but writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have somehow managed to intricately weave the songs into the story and screenplay. It's pretty impressive, and even mild Beatles fans will be wowed by the movie and the performances of the actors.
The movie itself is a bit of a mixed bag, but is pretty consistent with one exception. The entire first half of the movie is terrific and completely engaging, as we are introduced to the various characters, of which there are many. Aside from the singing, this first half is the most subdued kind of filmmaking Taymor has ever done, and, not coincidentally, it's also the best part of the movie. The final act is also pretty good, though not quite as good. While one would think that as the Vietnam War progresses the movie would get better, the actual story never really lands the punch you're waiting for (more on that later).
The only real problem I had with Across the Universe was a few trippy sequences in the middle. For some reason, Taymor couldn't resist going completely off the wall at least once, and as such she sticks a trippy, Moulin Rouge-esque segment in the middle that just doesn't work because it's so different from the rest of the movie. The best musical sequences are the simple ones as Taymor lets the music do the talking, but she forgets that at times. I found my mind wandering for a few minutes here or there.
Aside from a few brief missteps in the middle, however, Across the Universe is a fun and intoxicating journey of love and war. That being said, as mentioned earlier, the movie never really lands many direct punches. You can tell there is some social commentary going on here or there, but Taymor seems to shy away from anything too unsettling or powerful. As is, the movie works as a romantic musical with a few war moments, but you can tell there was supposed to be something more that just never came to fruition. Oh well.
Across the Universe isn't an award-winner, but it is an imaginative, impressively complex movie that fully capitalizes on the Beatles' greatest hits.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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