Across the Universe

Hey Julie, don't make it bad
Julie Taymor
Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs
The Setup: 
Jukebox musical of Beatles songs.

My friend wanted to see this, and although the thought of it seemed slightly less appealing than spending the equivalent time driving bamboo under my fingernails, one of my periodic guilt pangs about how I always choose the movie overcame me, and I decided to go along. Besides, I could entertain myself with how very much I was hating it.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate it, I found myself in a zen-like trance floating just below enjoyment. The three other people I was with experienced full, if measured enjoyment. So there ya go.

We open on a beach with this guy Jude, then get a quickie montage of the turbulent 60s. He’s in Liverpool, and he’s going to America. Meanwhile, in America, this girl Lucy is bidding farewell to her BF who is going off to Vietnam. Her brother Max is also on hand. Meanwhile this Asian lesbo cheerleader sings “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to this other cheerleader she pines for. They all converge on Princeton, where they meet and smoke invisible joints [still don’t understand that one]. Jude and Max decamp for New York, where they room with this singer, Sophie, obviously meant to be Janis Joplin. She soon hooks with a guitarist named Jojo.

Suddenly! It’s the Detroit riots, where a beatific black boy sings “Let It Be,” then BACK to New York, where Max gets drafted, seeing Uncle Sam sing “I Want You,” then goes to Vietnam, where he carries a big statue of liberty while singing “She’s So Heavy.” State of mild demi-enjoyent or not, my eyes were rolled FAR back into my head and these moments, and I also felt absolutely free to snooze as I pleased, and think I had quite a nice little nap in the middle there.

Then Bono shows up, then you notice that all these people don’t have 60s haircuts, they have 2007 hipster haircuts, which draw heavily on 60s and 70s hair. We also notice that these poor hippies are living in an uber-fabulous loft that lies in readiness for a House and Home photo shoot. Anyway, about an hour in it begins to be “conflict time.”

Eventually one becomes aware of how distressingly literal it can be. If you see some strawberries, it’s not going to be long before we hear “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Around this time I started to yearn to hear a Burt Bacharach song mixed in. Then Lucy is trapped in a phone booth during a demonstration in what amounts to a bizarre unintentional homage to The Birds. At one point Jude gives us a little bit of “Stomp.” The play, not the Brothers Johnson song.

Blah, blah, blah, eventually it ends. In the meantime, we’ve had a lot of “creative” visuals. Many of them were nice to look at, but I can’t recall a single one that moved me in any way. And once it’s over, it was a reasonably pleasant experience, but so is sitting on a park bench on a breezy day. The story is uninvolving because it is SO, SO cliché—this is more an aggregation of all previous 60s dramas than anything—and because the characters are tissue-thin. We get nothing but a “Newsweek Special Edition”-level survey of the turbulent 60s—they were turbulent!—but not much insight why any of this mattered or changed anything. There are some tepid parallels to the Iraq war, but nowadays parallels to the Iraq war are a virtual requirement in everything from sitcoms to ads for Tide with Cleansing Crystals.

Suffice to say, I was not moved. I must also admit that this is EXACTLY not my kind of movie, and I have an abiding dislike of Taymor, based on her horrid desecration of Titus, and then her TV commercial implying that the reason she’s so creative is because she has an American Express card. During this movie I thought “Oh God, I really have to watch that Roberto Begnini version of Pinocchio!” I think there’s something to be inferred from that.

Should you watch it: 

If it’s your kind of thing. It is not unenjoyable.