Directed by: Julie Taymor
Premise: A musical in which Jude (Jim Sturgess), an Irish steelworker, travels to New York in the late 1960s and falls in with a group of starving artists and meets Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), an idealistic college student. As the world around them becomes more tumultuous, the two struggle to maintain their relationship.
What Works: The film attempts to be a mix of Moulin Rouge! and Forrest Gump, taking the audience through the counter cultural scene while using formalistic filmmaking techniques and psychedelic imagery. Director Taymor has a great talent for art direction, innovative filmmaking, and choreography, as she demonstrated in Titus and Frida. The music of the film is almost entirely of The Beatles, with the characters in the film performing the tunes. When the music works, it really works, such as “Revolution,” “I Want You,” or “All You Need Is Love” and Taymor’s visuals complement the music.
What Doesn’t: The trouble with the musical numbers is that most of the time they are forced and do not reveal much about the characters or the story, such as “Let It Be” or “The Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Instead of using the musical numbers to dig deeper or move the story forward, they become tangents in which the film takes the audience on a tour of the counter culture. But even then, despite its formalistic content, the film does not show anything about the period that hasn’t been seen before. There are riots and demonstrations as seen in Forrest Gump, a Vietnam sequence right out of Platoon, and psychedelic scenes of artistic exploration from The Doors. This all adds up to a lot of flash but very little substance. This carries over to more naturalistic portions of the film as well. Actors Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess have plenty of romantic chemistry, but as characters there isn’t much going for either of them. They just go through the motions of their love story, and it follows a predictable 1960s format in which the outside pressures the chaotic world threaten to rip them apart.
Bottom Line: Across the Universe has some great talent behind it but the film puts too much effort into the look of the movie and does not invest enough in its story or characters. The result is an elaborate-looking piece of popcorn cinema masquerading as art house chic.
Episode: #N/A (November 4, 2007)