Across The Universe

Across The Universe


Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

Somewhere in the late Sixties, Jude (Jim Sturgess) leaves the shipyards of Liverpool to journey to the USA in an effort to locate his father. Once Stateside he falls in with a bunch of college types and Max (Joe Anderson) in particular. Jude and Max throw in the towel on college life and head off for New York, where they become caught up in the scene. Soon they are joined by Max's sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), complete with Max's draft card. Max goes off to the 'Nam. Jude and Lucy, now an item, continue to get caught up in the counter-culture movement.

The narrative is a sweeping look at America at the height of Flower Power as seen through the eyes of an English outsider. The interesting thing is that the film is a musical.

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Just in case you hadn't spotted the significance of the character's names and the film's title, this is musical set to the tunes of the Beatles.

A different set of rules apply to a musical. Characters are apt to stop what they are doing and break into song. The songs generally move the narrative along. This one is different in that the plot has to fit the song rather than the inverse. Some work surprisingly well. Some are so badly contrived it is painful to watch.

Although specific historical events are portrayed, the Sixties are more a state of mind than a timeline to be obeyed and the choice of songs reflects this, some were written much later than would fit into the chronology of the enterprise.

The romance between Lucy and Jude reminded me of that between Jack and Rose in Titanic, a relationship of convenience for the narrative. As if to acknowledge the point, a specific scene from Cameron's film is reprised unnecessarily.

The leads are good enough to keep you involved in their antics. Sturgess, channeling Paul McCartney will set many hearts aflutter. The supporting cast are the stars here though. Dana Fuchs as Sadie, landlady and singer, steals the show with her Janis Joplin-like vocals. Joe Cocker makes the most of a three-piece role. Bono, as Dr Robert, gets to perform I Am the Walrus with a certain élan, matched by a hippy bus and cheesy special effects (which I have to admit I found quite exhilarating).

Then there's Eddie Izzard as Mr Kite. This may be the litmus test for the movie; if you can get through this one… Personally, I rather enjoyed it.

As said, the songs and story match ups are mixed blessings. Pity poor TV Carpio as Prudence who gets the worst of it and is stuck with an awful use of I Want to Hold Your Hand, then Dear Prudence to indicate her character's literal coming out. This is excruciatingly painful. At the other end of the scale, I Want You, set to a razzle-dazzle Military induction process, is eye-popping and entertaining.

The political issues are there although somewhat homogenised, the anti-war movement gets all the sympathy yet the individual soldiers are lauded - the perfect Democratic stance for today. Race issues are touched upon as a side bar but curiously segregated from the main action. A couple of howling visual errors will be more easily spotted by the UK audience, but as said, these 60s are a state of mind.

When I first saw the film announced I thought the only person who could pull this off would be broadway veteran, Julie Taymor. Although I didn't realize until much later that the script was by none other than Porridge scribes, Clement and La Frenais - but you'd never know it.

An audience comprised mostly of college students really got into it at the showing I attended. They were into the romance, singing along with the songs and I suspect that the history lesson was fresh and seemed relevant to them - or at least I hope so. They gave a round of applause as the credits rolled.

Overall a mixed bag. Good bits. Great bits. Bits in which you want the ground underneath your reclining cinema chair to open and swallow you up. A line from Strawberry Fields seems particularly relevant: "Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about."

Reviewed on: 15 Oct 2007
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A look at the Flower Power era in America through the eyes of an outsider.
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Chris ***

Director: Julie Taymor

Writer: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Julie Taymor (story)

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther, TV Carpio, Spencer Liff, Lisa Hogg, Nicholas Lumley, Michael Ryan, Angela Mounsey

Year: 2007

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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