ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (2007)
The official website for Across the Universe proclaims in proper Beatles fashion that “all you need is love.” All this film needs is a more cohesive plot, proper character development, and greater depth. Oh, and perhaps a replacement for Eddie Izzard, who provokes a significantly greater amount of terror than laughter.
Jude, played by Jim Sturgess, leaves his Liverpool home for America in search of his father, who he’s never met. Once there, Jude stumbles across rebellious Princeton student Max (Joe Anderson) and his attractive younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). When Max drops out of college they move to New York City and, like nearly all unsuspecting movie protagonists in films of this nature, are rapidly sucked into Vietnam-era hippie culture. Drugs, antiwar protests, tinted eyeglasses, and garishly painted vans abound. Hendrix-style guitar solos also included.
Their sultry landlady is Sadie, a singer with fiery red hair and matching temper. Other housemates include JoJo, a wandering guitarist, and Prudence, a runaway lesbian who first enters through the bathroom window.
The war in Vietnam escalates around Jude and Lucy, who are caught up in the blissful throes of young love. When Max is drafted, the friends are faced with an unpleasant reality that no amount of illegal drugs can quite obliterate. Despite his vast repertoire of draft-evading schemes, Max is unable to avoid recruitment and leaves for Vietnam. (After Eddie Izzard’s performance, perhaps combat is a relief for Max.)
Jude and Lucy’s once idyllic relationship begins to suffer as the political atmosphere intensifies, and many of the other characters become disillusioned as problems close in around them. Will Jude and Lucy prove that love really is all you need? Will Sadie stay sexy? And will JoJo finally get back to where he once belonged?
Generic romance plot #3 provides the main structure for this film, supplemented by several convoluted, but nevertheless entertaining sub-plots. Plot twists in Across the Universe are more like plot corkscrews, spiraling madly but never really changing direction from clichéd predictability. This film is driven by our current culture’s perception of the 1960’s, and is therefore prone to occasional inaccuracy and oversimplification.
Rarely deviating from the expected, Jude and Lucy’s romance also progresses in the usual formulaic way. There’s a shy initial meeting, followed by the gradual falling in love, perfect relationship and (presumably) great sex. Toss in some conflict contrived simply to provide the conclusion with increased emotional impact, and you’ve got their relationship. While it has every necessary structural element, this romance is sometimes hard to buy. Despite the movie’s character-driven plot, not enough time is spent on character development, and for a romantic film, it doesn’t seem to have much focus on the intricacies of relationships essential to the plot. More effort seems to have been spent on presentation rather than depth, for the most part.
An especially frightening sequence, both in terms of its style and placement, is one in which Eddie Izzard sings, or rather, talks “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” with an assortment of trippy, masked extras revolving in the background. However, the scene’s main problem lies not in its absurdity but in Izzard’s irritating rendition, which has probably left Lennon rolling in his grave.
Although Across the Universe is inconsistent, there are a few brilliant scenes that make it worthwhile. Expect oversimplification and a manufactured plot, but also dazzling cinematography and passionate performances. The film is stylistically unique, emotionally charged, and has excellent pacing. Think ear/eye candy with a little extra kick. And Beatles fans, give the music a chance. It’s not quite bad enough to make you cry.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)
Ready for some real Beatles? Billed as “the greatest rock and roll comedy adventure,” A Hard Day’s Night is fun, hilarious, weird, and generally more fun than a barrel of monkeys. After all, monkeys bite. DVDs generally don’t. The minimized risk of rabies alone makes it worth your while to run out and rent/buy/illegally download this classic movie.
See George, John, Ringo and Paul—in order of personal preference—frolicking onscreen and, of course, singing beautifully. Shenanigans! Screaming fangirls! Dirty old men! Catchy music! Trouble with law enforcement officials! Excessive use of exclamation marks! This movie has it all.