Sunday, September 23, 2007

Across the Universe (2007)

The stupidest thing about this movie is its insistence on trying to work its collection of musical numbers into a single coherent narrative, which just doesn't work. This movie would have worked better as a loose collection of thematically related musical interludes, more like Pink Floyd: The Wall than Moulin Rouge. It means that the filmmakers have all manner of stupid contrivances, including characters named Jude, Lucy, Prudence, and Jojo. Try not to throw something at the screen when Maxwell shows up brandishing a certain burnished household tool for no good reason. This framework forces the movie towards some of the most mindlessly literal interpretations of the Beatles' songs possible.

The second stupidest thing about this movie is setting it in the 1960s, which leads to all manner of tired cliches about hippies and the anti-Vietnam movement and peace and love and stuff that we've seen in movies about a thousand times before. If the film had been set in the present, or better yet, in a stylized anytime, it would have worked a lot better, been more resonant. I don't need a hippied-up Bono telling me he is the walrus, and the same obligatory urban riot that exploded into Dreamgirls strikes again here.

In spite of these massive impediments to success, the movie does have a few scattered moments where it all works, mostly when plot isn't around. The early number "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is simple, timeless, and heartfelt. It's probably the best thing in the whole movie. Evan Rachel Wood's performance of "If I Fell" and Jim Sturgess's "Something" are pretty damn good too. Julie Taymor knows how to craft an image, and the sights of this movie are often spectacular, but she needs help in getting them to really flow and intersect with each other in truly provocative ways. I'm sure there are going to be people who will love this movie, but chances are they're people who haven't seen the older, better movies in this tradition. It's too bad because the music presented is mostly wonderful, and the messages that are still relevant deserve an intelligent, stimulating presentation.


Joe Valdez said...

I'm reading other reviews that echo what you pointed out, Jeff: the lame contrivances and the hippie stuff totally kill the movie. Ugh. I have no plans to pay money to see this.

I'm amazed that Dick Clement & Ian LaFrenais are the credited writers on this. If anyone could write a sharp, fantastic script about music, I would have thought it was these guys. What happened?

Now I have to wait for Evan Rachel Wood to make another movie. Bummer.

Jeff McMahon said...

I'd still recommend seeing the movie in theaters in order to enjoy Taymor's visuals, but only if you can go in with the proper expectations and ignore the narrative.

cjKennedy said...

It sounds like the movie lives up to my most cynical fears of it which is kind of too bad.

I may still check it out.

Christopher Zane said...

I really hated Across the Universe, mostly for the reasons you mentioned. Thirty minutes into it I was so disgusted that it was hard to appreciate the redeeming features, which exist and which you also mentioned.

I wanted to barf at the "Dear Prudence" scene.