Julie Taymor's Beatles musical isn't quite a magical mystery tour

Across the Universe

on September 14, 2007 by Kevin Courrier
As expected, Julie Taymor's passionately drawn musical fantasia on the way the Beatles' music influenced the youthful idealism of the '60s is ambitious, audacious and spectacular. It's a shame, then, that so much of the execution is wrong-headed. Taymor rightly identifies the utopian promise inherent in the Fab Four's songs by illustrating the way people shaped their lives and ideals with the transcendent spirit of the music. But rather than create a dramatic story that indicates specifically what the music means to the characters, she paints a broader, more operatic canvas that reduces the period to a series of cataclysmic events that dwarf the individuals on the screen. The effect is like watching Hair directed by Oliver Stone.

The story concerns a young Liverpudlian named Jude (Jim Sturgess) who travels to the U.S. in the mid-‘60s to find his American father. While there, he befriends Max (Joe Anderson), a middle-class bohemian at Princeton, who has a beautiful sister, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), with whom Jude falls madly in love. When the clan eventually ends up in New York with dreams of a better future before them, the decade's darker underside of racial iniquities, the Vietnam War and the draft, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and drugs and psychedelia overshadow their desires and ideals. Throughout the story, the characters sing various Beatles songs to illustrate their hopes, longings and fears.

Across the Universe would make for a much stronger picture if Taymor had worked from a better dramatic script, one that fleshed out the characters and made them a distinguishing force out to make history, like the Beatles themselves. Instead, they become merely pawns of the historical forces around them. What works best here are some of the visual motifs, especially the large-scale puppetry Taymor is known for from her stage work, and a few of the musical performances. But the less said about Bono's ridiculous cameo as the Neal Cassidy-inspired Dr. Robert (singing "I Am the Walrus"), the better.

For complete coverage of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, search boxoffice.com using keyword "TIFF 2007."
Distributor: Sony
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, Bono and Eddie Izzard
Director: Julie Taymor
Screenwriters: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
Producers: Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd and Matthew Gross
Genre: Musical
Rating: PG-13 for some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language
Running time: 133 min.
Release date: September 14, 2007 ltd., September 21 exp.
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