Is there anybody going to listen to my story?”
These are the first words sung by Jude (Jim Sturgess)-picture a young, modern day Paul McCartney-during the opening song “Girl,” in Julie Taymor’s visually stimulating musical, “Across the Universe.”
The answer to his question is yes. The 2 hour and 13 minute long musical is unique to any other musical ever done. It showcases dozens of songs by the ever-classic Beatles. Taymor chose to pick songs from almost every Beatles album, starting with the earliest “Meet The Beatles!” album, which consists of hits like “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” to later albums like “Abbey Road,” which gets its screen time in songs like “Something” and “Come Together.”
The progression of Beatle’ songs from early hits to later hits parallels the time change in the movie as well. The film begins in the 60s during the Vietnam War. The two main characters, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a wealthy all-American girl, and Jude, a Liverpool resident looking for adventure away from his day job, meet when Jude comes to America in search of his birth father.
Jude’s father works at the prestigious Princeton University, where Jude befriends the soon to be dropout student, Max (Joe Anderson) and in turn meets Max’s sister Lucy.
Max, after deciding Ivy League education isn’t really his cup of tea, spontaneously decides to get an apartment with Jude in New York. They share rent with bohemian singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs), soulful guitarist Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), and free-spirited lesbian Ohio cheerleader Prudence (T.V. Carpio).
Lucy, affected by casualties in the war, also lives with the group in New York. Jude decides this is the perfect opportunity to make his move, which sets their love affair in motion for the rest of the film.
Fuchs is one of the stronger singers in the cast. Newcomer Sturgess is mediocre with little depth, and actress Wood is occasionally surprising-she does a beautiful cover of “Blackbird.” McCoy who is possibly the best singer in the musical, but disappointingly, he does not get much screen time. However, his rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” leaves audiences wanting more.
The six main characters all take on different roles in the Big Apple. Jo-Jo and Sadie develop an on again off again relationship through working together. Jude tries to pursue his art career, while his counterpart, Lucy, works as a waitress. Prudence and Max are the last link to this chain and they live a seemingly carefree, hippie life.
Alas, nothing good lasts forever. Max is shipped off to Vietnam, breaking the dynamic of the household and causing Jude to lose his best friend. Lucy gets into anti-war activism while she waits for her brother’s return, befriending other activists. Jude, however, is more interested in his art career, as he spends his days drawing and painting.
Lucy’s new friends, though wanting peace, get into conflicts with the police during their spouts of activism. Jude, trying to save his relationship with Lucy, gets mixed up in all the chaos, leading to his arrest. This is extremely bad news for Jude, as he does not have a green card. Somehow, in his stay thus far at New York, this had not been a problem for him. Perhaps this was borrowed from John Lennon’s real-life green card troubles.
The film has a cameo from musician Bono, who plays Dr. Robert, and performs the songs “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Am the Walrus.”
“Across The Universe” features 33 songs from the British band, most of them in chronological order according to their release. Aside from this, the plot also plays off some of their lyrics. For example, when Prudence first comes into the bohemian, carefree apartment where all the main characters reside, she crawls through the bathroom window, which is a play off of “Abbey Road” song, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.”
These tongue-in-cheek remarks, along with names of all the characters being names used in a Beatles’ song, are recognizable to the most dedicated fans.
The plot, though not award-winning, is strong enough to stand on its own outside of all the Beatle-hoopla.
The visuals in the film are enough to make anyone want to see it again. In the song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Sturgess artfully throws strawberries across a canvas and nails others, causing red juice to ooze in perfect lines.
In the Sgt. Pepper song, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” the special effects come to play through a psychedelic interpretation of the story told through the lyrics.
Whenever a new song begins, the movie theatre seems to be magically transformed into a stage, perhaps the intent of director Taymor, who has worked on Broadway musicals like “The Lion King.”
One of the more elaborate scenes is during the song “I Want You.” Though the meaning of the song is changed from wanting a woman, to Uncle Sam wanting soldiers for the war, it works wonderfully with the special effects that correlate with the process of being a soldier for Vietnam. Anderson proves to be strong as both an actor and singer in this piece.
“Across The Universe” is a musical and social adventure through the 60s, which includes some of the best rock songs ever written. It emerges as another modern musical, like to not only capture a moment in history and have stunning visuals, but also have a great soundtrack as well. Though marketed toward a younger audience, its timeless songs and plot are sure to be enjoyable by everyone.