At the Cinema: Across the Universe

Since my good partner, Ms. Terrible, opted to write about a Beatles-inspired-though-not-actually-featuring-any-Beatles movie, I thought, hell, I can name that tune, too. So let’s talk about Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. The movie itself has nothing to do with the Beatles themselves, but the entire soundtrack is composed of Beatles songs, so there’s your link right there.

ATU aspires to be a musical of the old fashioned sort, with characters breaking into song for no particular reason at any and all moments, in seemingly unlikely locations. If you’ve seen any of Taymor’s other works, either on-stage or on-screen, you probably know that you’re going to get elaborate sets, big numbers and a whole lot of oddity that never quite resolves itself. Don’t expect many deviations from that track record here.

The story focuses primarily on three characters, conveniently named after various characters in assorted songs from the Fab Four’s catalogue, namely Jude, Max, and Lucy. And then there are the secondary characters, Sadie, Prudence, and a variety of others. The plotline follows this motley crew throughout the turbulent 60s, blah, blah, blah. The main storyline follows Max getting drafted, Jude escaping to the US to become an artist and avoid actually growing up, and Lucy becoming a war protester. The subplotlines deal with Prudence dealing with being a lesbian, Sadie and Jo-Jo dealing with stardom and their interracial romance, and a bunch of stuff involving various drugs throughout. Essentially, Taymor hits on all the stereotypical figures of the 60s. As a fully realized story, this flick is a bit of a miss. It’s really more of a series of character sketches, but we’re not here to talk about the movie itself, are we? Hells no, here at LET, we’re all about the tunes. Or some such thing.

A couple of the actors have truly phenomenal voices, particularly Jim Sturgess (Jude), Martin Luther (Jo-Jo) and T. V. Carpio (Prudence). Of course, Luther and Carpio are only given a song or two each, but what can you do? They arguably are the best songs on the soundtrack. Sturgess does the amazing and actually sounds British when he sings. I’ve often wondered why nobody in England sings in an English accent. And now I know they can. I’m torn over the vocal stylings of Dana Fuchs (Sadie). She has a strong, coarse voice, and it’s no surprise she once played Janis Joplin off-Broadway. If anything, she may have a bit too much grit for the songs she’s given, but there’s no doubting that she has one helluva set of pipes on her.

Did you want cameos by famous people? Well, ATU has those, too. Selma Hayek has a “so quick you’ll miss it if you blink” role as a nurse in an apparent acid-induced fever dream. Bono plays a Timothy Leary knock off, Dr. Robert (natch), and is given the closing credits number, too. Most surprising, though, is a miscast Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, apparently the Ken Kesey counterpart. My god, the man is funny as all get out, but cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Interestingly enough (or not), he’s also the only character allowed to add some improvised lines to his titular song. Hands down, though, the cameo highlight is Joe Cocker alternately playing a pimp and a bum while cranking out “Come Together.” Sadly, Joe nailed the bum look. Still it’s nice to see the genius still can belt ’em out, and that he’s getting occasional work.

Is this a movie you need to rush out and see? Meh. Your call. If you do, while LET does not encourage drug use, I certainly couldn’t argue that it wouldn’t increase your enjoyment of this one. The soundtrack, however, does deserve a listen or two, particularly the tracks/singers highlighted above.

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