Oh my, what could have been. Across the Universe is not as bad as it could have been and it’s also not as great as it should be. The third musical (second rock musical) of the year, Across the Universecan’t quite ascend to the level that Once is on but instead it is more in the realm of Hairspray, which isn’t bad either. I loved a lot of this movie but couldn’t help feeling a little letdown, knowing how close it was to sheer greatness and how fixable its flaw is. Everything this movie needed to be a masterpiece was in place, but the final product is just your middle-of-the-road good movie.
The theme of this musical is that all of the songs are inspired by the Beatles and the storyline revolves around the Vietnam protesting period of the late 1960’s. Across the Universe is ultimately a tale of two people from different world’s crossing paths by fate and falling in love. Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a young lad and artist from Liverpool, UK making a journey to the United States to get away from things and to search for his long lost father. Jude learns that his father is a janitor at an Ivy League school (which one isn’t known). After meeting him, Jude runs into Ivy League party animal Max (Joe Anderson) and the two almost instantly become best friends. Jude comes to Thanksgiving dinner with Max and his family, an amusing scene, and meets Max’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood, 2006’s Running With Scissors).
Max drops out of college and moves to New York with Jude. They stay at an apartment complex, the land lady (Dana Fuchs) of which is a rising singer. After coping with the loss of her KIA boyfriend, Lucy moves to New York to live with Max and Jude. Lucy quickly falls in love with Jude and for a while things are good between the group. However, the good times don’t last as bigger things intervene. Max gets drafted into the army which leads to Lucy getting involved with radical groups. Jude, being from another country is sort of neutral on this subject and starts getting obsessed with his art, while simultaneously creating a huge wall between himself and Lucy.
Across the Universe could not have started out any better, brilliantly introducing Jude and Lucy and cutting between their social lives with the same song. Pretty soon I found myself getting lost within the movie, absorbing every great song and the coming-of-age tell transpiring on the screen. Everything in the first hour is so original and so profoundly and visually creative. The film also wears it’s political themes on its sleeves, giving realistic depictions of incidents and tragedies of radical demonstrations. The movie couldn’t have ended any better either, building up to the final two big songs (Hey Jude, and Love is All You Need) and when their moment finally comes, the effect is almost overwhelming. In 110 out of the 131 minutes of Across the Universe, director Julie Taymor is a visionary saint.
So what is the problem with Across the Universe? It has one flaw, but it is far, far away from insignificant. The first and third acts of this movie are divided by a brick wall in the middle which the movie runs into and falls flat. It’s really just one WTH? after another. Most of this section is animated which is so inconsistent and different from everything that had come before it. This part of the film isn’t just on weed, but on acid. Half of this disaster involves U2’s Bono as a protest leader hightailing it across the country in a flower-power bus with Jude and his friends followed by a crazy sequence involving an animated circus. This only brings up one question: what does any of this have to do with the story. Apparently nothing because soon the film gets back on track and acts like it never happened. As much as I wish it didn’t happen, it did. How can twenty minutes of zany, delusional trash be inserted into an otherwise brilliant motion picture? If all of this were edited out, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why it wasn’t, Across the Universe would benefit tremendously by not only being a great film but also by having a condensed 110 minute running length. Every positive thing said about the movie from this point is with the exception of this.
As it stands, Across the Universe is overall a joyous and splendid musical experience. Taymor brilliantly interweaves Beatles’ music into the storyline. The character development and the chemistry created by Jude, Lucy, and Max is exemplary and Taymor wisely devotes a fair amount of time to each one of the trio. There are not any headlining names in the acting department but the performances are all wonderful and hopefully some of these young actors have showcased their talents enough to receive bigger roles in the future. The music scenes are well choreographed and visually spectacular and imaginative. With the pitch perfect ending, I almost forgot about those dreadful twenty minutes in the middle of the movie, but as I left the theater there were two words repeating themselves over and over in my head: if only…. Across the Universe is simply a good film that easily should have been an unforgettably great one.