The night before last I finally saw Across the Universe, because I had been worried it would leave theaters before I got the chance to see it on the big screen. Having had a couple of days to sort out my varied feelings about the film, I'm very glad that I was able to catch it before it closed. I'd had previous warning from a large number of sources that the story would be inescapably thin, but I followed my gut instinct which told me that the draw of the film would be its visuals, not its story. Thankfully, I was right.
From the trailer I could tell that there was an incredibly artistic vision at hand in this film, and also that the story rested its crucial Beatles tunes on a plot consisting of 1960s romance and the Vietnam war. Ehhh... Dave Calhoun of Time Out London wrote, "Taymor has mistaken a deeply clichéd view of the late ’60s for a radical slice of the zeitgeist. Let it be." This is pretty much the big problem that the story has. I think it's understandable that when crafting plotlines around the beloved and culturally relevant songs of The Beatles, there would be a strong impulse to focus on the political situation of the '60s. However, I think much of the beauty of the music is its emotional impact that transcends time frames. There is a beautiful scene set to "All You Need is Love," and I wish that the film had taken more of its cues from the lyrics to that song. Any number of stories could have better served the musical while giving it more of a storytelling appeal, and I even think that Movin' Out told the Vietnam story better with its "Goodnight Saigon" set piece alone...
That said, I still thought this was an excellent movie. How I managed to come to that conclusion was to check out of the storyline completely about ten minutes in. One of my friends, who left the theater calling it her "new favorite movie," referred to it as a string of amazing music videos. For anyone not looking to try too hard to figure out what's going on throughout, this is the best way to watch Across the Universe. There are too many lulls in the story to keep it feeling fresh and smooth from start to finish, yet almost every one of the songs is treated with beauty and grace.
Even someone like myself who is not necessarily fluent in the full discography of Beatles music was aware of stretches that the film made in order to incorporate song titles or lyrics into non sequitur pieces of dialogue. But even though the music didn't alllways fit with the storyline, there is one crucial aspect to this movie that I have yet to mention: the music is BEAUTIFUL! Of course, Beatles music is amazing as is, but the performances were at times so moving that I felt all I wanted to do was listen to that song for the rest of my life. T.V. Carpio's voice gave "I Want to Hold Your Hand" a raw, caramelized beauty that I had never heard in it before, and Jim Sturgess' "Strawberry Fields Forever" harmonized so well with the visuals onscreen that I was in awe of the visceral experience being projected in suspicious 2D a few yards in front of my face.
So, I must recommend that you see this movie in the next few days before it leaves theaters. I fully intend to buy the soundtrack and start listening to the original Beatles music I haven't played in a long time. I understand why the movie got a 51% at Rotten Tomatoes - some people love it and some people hate it. I would have to give the visual aspect and the musical performances a 100%, and the storyline a 25%...you know I can't resist a good love story, and this one is sweet if taken in small doses. As far as the performances are concerned in general, I enjoyed them all, for the most part. The actors did a good job in spite of the flaws in the screenplay. Cameos by Bono, Eddie Izzard, Salma Hayek, and especially Joe Cocker were delightful surprises, and the supporting actors all suited their roles very well.
Evan Rachel Wood managed to get under my skin, though, and not in a good way. I can't really tell how much of my current distaste for her comes from the Dita/Marilyn thing, or how much of it is my jealousy at her pin-straight golden hair and porcelain, patrician face. All in all, I just found her annoying. As for Jim Sturgess, I would like to officially welcome him to the club of "Katherine's Hollywood Heartthrobs." Honestly, I can't even remember the last time I saw an actor in a movie and immediately felt the heartstring flutters of teenage celebrity crushes. I know I was not the only girl in the audience who uttered a satisfied purr every time he sauntered onscreen, all British and pretty. Yum.
So...where was I? Anyway, great soundtrack and worth the price of the ticket, if you go in with the proper frame of mind. I'd love to see what Taymor could do with actual music videos, and if she could translate this movie into a better version of itself on the Broadway stage. Note to self: rent Titus.