Do I care if this movie has flaws? No. Not one bit. This movie has some flaws in it, but so does Sin City, and that is my all-time favorite. Across the Universe is not even anywhere as close as good as Sin City, but it does come very close to being one of my favorite musicals of all time. I can’t even explain what Across the Universe was trying to prove to us. Was Julie Taymor trying to prove to us that she knew her color wheel? Or was she trying to prove that there were actors out there that could actually act? Or was she trying to prove to us that maybe, just maybe, Across the Universe was trying to prove us something that no other movie really has shown us. For the first time in years, a film hit me right in the gut, and told me to pay attention to what it was trying to tell me. And tonight, I bring you, the hardest review I ever had to write, Across the Universe.
Jim Sturgess plays Jude, a dock worker who illegally emigrates from Liverpool to Princeton to find his estranged father. He meets up with Max, a student at Princeton that feels like dropping out. They become friends, and Max introduces Jude to Max’s sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Lucy’s boyfriend was killed in the war recently, so there must be something wrong. When Max is being drafted into the army to go overseas to Vietnam, they fight against the war. That’s pretty much it as far as plot goes. Add that with a lot of drugs and Beatles music and Evan Rachel Wood‘s booby and you get Across the Universe. There is at least one of these things that you will like. I know it.
Across the Universe is actually much different from most musicals. Where most musicals rely on either joy, emotion, or war, Across the Universe relies on all three. The first 45 minutes is hyper. There are some moments where you actually feel like you want to get up and dance. These 45 minutes let us meet the characters. Across the Universe doesn’t really rely on plot, like most musicals. It relies more on character development. There is so much that it wants to tell us that it doesn’t give us time to express it during the music, so Julie Taymor does the impossible and doesn’t give us much plot. We meet these characters and get to know them. Taymor lays it all out for us. Earlier this year, I saw Hairspray and immediately thought that it was a fantastic joyous time. The first 45 minutes of this can be compared to Hairspray. For these 45 minutes, you have a grin on your face that stays there. It won’t leave and if you try to frown, you will be kicking yourself in the face. Don’t try it.
However, the second act is different. Taymor gives us a reason for why we should like the movie, or why we should hate this movie. The good part of this time is a trip on LSD on a wild hippie bus. People will call Taymor a weirdo, but I will do the opposite and call her a genius. This is why… she takes risks. See, she could have easily done a musical by giving us the setup and putting it out there in front of us. Instead, she hides it in the 15 minutes where this goes on. See, this next 15 minutes will decide whether or not you will actually like this film, or hate it. It did me better than it would do a lot of cinema-goers who don’t know what they are getting themselves into. This is where I talk about Taymor. You will either like her, or hate her. She has different tastes, and when you watch her films, you know you aren’t watching an ordinary film. Across the Universe is just one of them films. One of the weirdest films could be one of the best if you really use your imagination.
The third act seems almost impossible to achieve, but Julie Taymor gets it right. See, after all of the weird stuff finishes, we actually get to see the characters solve their problems. My body gets tense whenever something happens, when something slaps me in my chest. The last film to do that was Children of Men. But Across the Universe succeeds much more than Children of Men. In the third act, there is this one scene at an anti-war rally that really does get to you. Some of it is featured in the trailer (which just happens to be my favorite trailer of all-time, if you didn’t know), but you have to see it on the big screen for it to get to you. The third act deals a lot more with our feelings towards music and war. You can almost compare it to your feelings with this Iraq war going on right now. The draft that they had back then hurt so many people that it is almost impossible to say that Across the Universe came at just the right time where we have been having these anti-war protests also.
The music here is absolutely amazing. No seriously. It’s amazing. The cast members (and read how I say cast members and not vocalists) sang all of these songs and did such a great job that if I even had a choice, I would actually had to say that some of their versions of songs were better than the actual Beatles. Highlights of the movie were the catchy “With A Little Help From My Friends,” the toe-tapping fun ride of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” the extremely satisfying “Across the Universe,” and the protest rally scene where “Across the Universe” and “Helter Skelter” are combined into almost a melody. It’s great how Taymor actually developed all of these songs and ideas into one big film. If you look closely at a lot of these, you can see how they are related to the actual Beatles. They throw in elements of drugs, anti-war protests, and relationships. But what Taymor does is that she mixes in these songs into one big storyline, making it a completely original film (minus the songs of course, but even the tunes are somewhat different and Taymor makes the soundtrack a bit more… poppier…).
And the cast… the cast… god, I’m completely speechless. Out of the main cast, the only one I heard of was Evan Rachel Wood, and I knew her talents way before this film. But I actually got to meet a few new people today. One of them people happen to be Jim Sturgess. No Jim, don’t cower in fear. I’m not going to hurt you. Actually, I’m going to give you a medal, or better yet, a trophy, that claims you to be the BEST actor of the year. Wouldn’t you like that, Jimmy boy? Well, good. You deserve it. Sturgess does an excellent job as the main character Jude. His voice is so perfect to the Beatles that it is like they brought John Lennon from the dead and gave him a makeover. He just rules in this. It’s just a shame that this guy isn’t recognized by others. He really does do a fantastic job and really should be acting much more. If this guy does not get his Oscar nomination, I will hand-deliver it to him personally.
But what you get from Across the Universe is more than a film. What you get from Across the Universe is an experience in itself. It could be any kind of experience — a fun and very different experience, or a deeply emotional and sensual experience. For me, it was more of the second. I know that the biggest reason that people my age went to go see this film was “Hey Jude.” It’s played near end of the movie, and is very emotional and sensual, but by the time that it is played, the audience (and you) has run out of tears. It feels like we have gotten to know these characters forever, but when the two hours and ten minutes are over, you are dying to see more. I am actually planning on seeing this again soon once it plays closer to me.
To conclude this review, I advise that everyone sees it. But there is something that I don’t want you to do — don’t remember anything about this review. I say this for the reason that Across the Universe isn’t for everyone. The fifteen minutes in the second half will automatically affect your decision. I don’t care about what you think of it, but just don’t trust me with this one, or any critic for that matter. Go see it with the intention of seeing the last great Beatles movie since Yellow Submarine. And I leave you there, with the hardest review that I ever had to write.
**** out of ****
Director: Julie Taymor
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson