Beatles Fans Might Enjoy This Trip Across the Universe
- Thursday, February 07, 2008
DVD Release Date: February 5, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: September 14, 2007
Rating: PG-13 (for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language)
Run Time: 133 min.
Director: Julie Taymor
Actors: Evan Rachel Wood, Martin Luther, Dana Fuchs, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, T.V. Carpio
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following review contains discussion of adult subject matter that is not appropriate for young readers. Parents, please exercise caution.
In this musical homage to the Beatles, it’s the late ‘60s and Jude (Jim Sturgess), a working class limey from Liverpool, heads to the U.S. to search for his birth father. He finds dear old dad in Princeton, N.J., but the reunion isn’t what he expected. So Jude befriends a wealthy drop-out named Max (Joe Anderson), and the pair heads to New York City.
They move in with a Janis Joplin-like bar singer (Dana Fuchs), her Jimi Hendrix-style boyfriend/guitar player (Martin Luther) and later, an Asian lesbian cheerleader named Prudence (T.V. Carpio) who crawls in through the bathroom window and stays. Jude falls in love with Max’s younger sister, Lucie (Evan Rachel Wood), after her boyfriend dies in Vietnam. Lucie has just graduated from high school and is also searching for meaning. Soon, the three have joined the counter cultural movement and are barhopping, dropping acid and protesting the war.
Like most musicals, Across the Universe is short on narrative and big on song. And it’s very good song. We’re treated to many new renditions of old Beatles hits. When Jude leaves England, he sings “All My Loving” to his girlfriend. Lusting after another high school cheerleader, Prudence sings “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” As Jude works on his art, he throws strawberries at a canvas and belts out “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Not unexpectedly, Max also sings, “Hey Jude.”
They’re all nicely done, and it’s clear that most of the actors were chosen for their voices. Sturgiss and Anderson, as the male leads, are great vocalists, and Fuchs does a fantastic job with her songs as well. Luther is also good, and even Wood holds her own, with songs like “It Won’t Be Long” (as she waits for her doomed fiancé).
Then there are the cameos. U2’s Bono appears (in a wig) as Robert, a drugged cult leader, singing “I Am the Walrus,” as psychedelic colors transform everything into a tie-dyed universe. Joe Cocker sings a plaintive version of “Let It Be” during street riots. The song concludes in church, as a full choir mourns a young boy’s death. And, rather lamentably, Eddie Izzard offers a hallucinogenic version of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” sung in circus makeup and costume amidst oversized, dancing blue puppets.
The problem is that the music, while well performed, doesn’t match the film. It’s hardly an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, where each song advances the narrative. Here, they have all been shoved into the story, with varying levels of success. In some scenes, like the funeral, they flow. But in others, like the strawberries (which turn into bombs raining down on Vietnam), they feel forced and just ridiculous. The story thus grinds to a halt while the actors sing, before picking up again where it left off.
A nude couple makes love under water. An Uncle Sam poster comes to life, reaches out and begins singing. Underwear-clad soldiers haul a Statue of Liberty across a tabletop Vietnam. A half-dozen Salma Hayek nurse clones care for a wounded soldier, while an Imam priest dances and flies through the air. And so on. And on. For two very long hours and then some—way past the time this acid trip should have ended.
Like its many characters, Against the Universe is clearly against war of any kind, and this is conveyed, at times, with great creativity. Its message is also summed up in the final song: “All You Need Is Love.” Ah, but if only that were true.
Still, it isn’t as bad as you might expect. Director Julie Taymor (Titus and the Broadway version of The Lion King) has definitely stepped out of the box with these cinematic theatrics, which some will no doubt enjoy. Think Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band meets television’s The ‘60s—with a tablespoon of Hair, a teaspoon of Xanadu and a dash of Forrest Gump.
If you’re looking for a straightforward narrative—and musicals aren’t your thing—you’ll want to bypass this one. But if you’re a big Beatles fan and love all things ‘60s, this is definitely worth the trip. Goo goo g’joob.
- Commentary with director Julie Taymor
- Drugs/Alcohol: Characters smoke, drink, use drugs, and get drunk and high throughout the film. Many scenes are “acid trips” seen through the perspective of hallucinogenic drugs.
- Language/Profanity: A handful of mostly mild profanities and obscenities.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Couples kiss and gyrate in various scenes; teenage girl becomes sexually involved with a young man, including several scenes in which they are intimate (e.g. nude beneath the covers together); in one scene, the young woman sleeps in the nude, exposing a bare breast; in another, the couple are intimate while underwater (full side nudity); in another, full frontal nude characters float by (genitalia appear to be painted over); several nude women float in water as if dead, with visible (though painted over) genitalia; a teenage girls lusts after another teenage girl then later, a 40-something woman (relationship is unreciprocated).
- Violence: College boys break a window then flee, as others chase on foot; numerous war protest scenes which become violent; street riots which kill a young boy, who is later mourned during a funeral scene in church; soldiers kill and are killed in Vietnam; white-painted actresses fall into the water than float as if dead; war protesters are scene making bombs; later, the headlines declare that they were killed when the bombs exploded; edited war footage of bombs being dropped and napalm explosions.
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