Across the Universe
- Julie Taymor
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Monday, December 10, 2007
Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a Liverpool lad who travels to the US in search of his father (Robert Clohessy) and ends up befriending rebellious student Max (Joe Anderson). He also meets the latter’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) with whom it’s love at first sight. They all eventually move to Greenwich Village, sharing a flat with artists Sadie (Dana Fuchs), Prudence (T.V. Carpio) and JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy). Together they experience the difficulties of the era, when the Vietnam War was at its worst and activists did what they could to stop it.
Julie Taymor directed from a screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, based on an idea by the three. In this case it’s important to separate the idea (which is fantastic) to the actual screenplay (which many people will have a problem with). I have to admit the movie is a mess, but it’s a wonderful, inspired, original, arresting and involving one. It took me a while to get used to what was presented in front of me, for I expected a coherent story and it never really came. But after a while (and aided by a second viewing) I got it. As Jude remarks at one point: “Surely it’s not who you are or what you do, but how you do it.”
Across the Universe is a movie made up of moments. It is a bizarre trip into the Beatles-mania, not only by way of their classic songs, but also in the shape of countless references. The music has been re-worked in a way that feels refreshing, with some of them exuding entirely different feelings from the recollections we had. It’s said that the majority of songs were recorded live on set and you can feel that roughness and you-are-there feeling. And yes, the story is shaped to fit this and that lyric, but you should stop paying attention to that and get on with the groove, enjoy the inspired ways in which it is used and let it get you in the mood of a time and era long gone, yet with striking echoes of our present.
Taymor’s knack for creativity is on full display, giving way to some truly exhilarating sequences that go hand-in-hand with quieter, character-driven ones. I was especially awed by Prudence’s touching rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, highly entertained by big production numbers of “Come Together”, “I am the Walrus” and “Mr. Kite”, left speechless by the beauty of “Because”, exhilarated by the intensity in Sadie and JoJo’s “Oh Darling”, moved by the soulful and poignant renditions of “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude”, flabbergasted by the visuals and background in “Strawberry Fields Forever”, feeling high during Max’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, excited about Jude’s climactic “All You Need is Love” and marveled at the brilliant audacity of the recruiting scene to the tune of “I Want You”. Just writing about these scenes makes me want to see them again and again and again.
Of all the performers only Evan Rachel Wood came into the project with some cred. She’s very good and has a surprisingly potent and beautiful voice. Jim Sturgess is a great find, with his role fitting like a glove and being able to create a conflicted yet compelling and identifiable character. Joe Anderson is top-notch in the role that goes through the biggest arc. Dana Fuchs and Martin Luther are clearly channeling Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix, doing so with panache and personality to spare. Special appearances by Bono, Joe Crocker, Eddie Izzard and Salma Hayek are all a hoot. And needless to say, everyone sings their hearts out.
“As long as you don’t have flat feet...”
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