This past week marked the 50th anniversary deluxe edition release of the Beatles infamous "White Album." Fifty years ago in 1968, the Vietnam War was raging on, and many young people turned to protest. The essence of those events are captured in the movie musical "Across the Universe."
“Across the Universe” is the perfect mix of sweet and savory, a concoction of whimsical art direction and quintessential song and dance.
I find that every musical I enjoy has either fantastic music, elaborate dance numbers or a compelling plot line. But few combine each of those elements as supremely as Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical does.
The film follows Jude, played by Jim Sturgess, a 20-something British shipyard worker who travels to America in the hopes of meeting his father for the first time. Upon meeting his father, he befriends Max, played by Joe Anderson, a wealthy Princeton student who’s just about had it with the “collegiate crap." Max’s sister Lucy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is heartbroken after she loses her boyfriend in the war.
The film follows them for several years in the 1960s as they go from trying to escape their own mundane lives to trying to escape the draft. They move to New York City and meet musicians, artists and runaways like themselves. Jude and Lucy fall for each other and find purpose in protest. Their story is told through the soundtrack, a keen medley of more than 30 Beatles songs.
The music is as classic as it comes and the film mostly doesn’t try to put its own spin on it. With little actual dialogue, the story is told through the lyrics of the songs. The main characters are even named after certain tracks that play important roles in the film, like “Hey Jude” and “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds.”
The choreography, intricate yet usually fast paced, successfully executes dancing to rock and roll music. Most Beatles songs call for a swaying or head bop of sorts, but choreographer Daniel Ezralow makes for more lyrical combinations.
My favorite scene in the movie takes place in a bowling alley where Jude has just realized he’s falling for Lucy. Neon lights can do no wrong in my book, and this scene utilizes them perfectly for Jude’s rendition of “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Hues of bright blues, purples and reds flash before the characters as they laugh and slide all over the alleyways, making for a feel good scene.
The characters are rightfully dramatic, layered with a youthful hope and a bitter awareness of their surroundings. Though dialogue usually carries the emotional weight for actors, here the songs reign supreme.
They trip on LSD, tango with doll-like drill sergeants and catapult strawberries at a canvas for an apocalyptic, sanguine art piece.
The movie presents issues of violence and war, but never really delves into them, since the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its run time is almost two and a half hours, and the use of CGI and doctored footage can sometimes feel excessive. But that’s the beauty of a musical — it has no rules to abide by.
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