Across the Universe
We all love the Beatles, yes? But who'd have thought that someone could come along and make 33 of their songs into the most inventive, beautiful and moving film of the year? That's Julie Taymor, the director who made her reputation for staging "The Lion King" on Broadway, but who also directed the film of Shakespeare's bloodiest play "Titus Andronicus." She and her screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who had collaborated on the brilliant "The Commitments," have found a plot and characters to flesh them out, while making every song work to recall an American era - the 60s - the decade of love and hallucinogens, of assassinations and race riots, and the Vietnam war and the protests against it.
Everyone sings in "Across the Universe." Jude (Jim Sturgess) is a Liverpool shipyard worker who longs to go to America to find his father, who is a janitor at Princeton. And he becomes friends with Max (Joe Anderson), a student there who has a sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood, who is not just gorgeous but has the most beautiful voice for these songs). Jude and Lucy fall in love, go to New York, find an apartment in the East Village owned by Sadie (Dana Fuchs, who is the incarnation of Janis Joplin, and in fact played her on Broadway). Max drops out of Princeton and is drafted into the army.
I've given you a kind of plot, but that's not Taymor's achievement. She's found a way to use film as it's never been used before. She takes her people to places like a trip across country in a Ken Kesey-type bus, with Bono as a Timothy Leary clone, mixing in the Bread and Puppet Theatre's giant puppets; she's staged dances that are stunning - when Max is inducted he has to face a hundred sergeants doing drills, plus a line of recruits in their underwear moving through them. When he's wounded in Vietnam there are a dozen Salma Hayek clones as his nurses. There's Joe Cocker singing "With a Little Help from my Friends." There's more, and more, and more; the film never stops, and it all makes wonderful sense.
I really don't believe there's ever been a film visually like "Across the Universe," and for that alone I would recommend it; but Taymor and her writers have also given us real people in real situations, living through the upeavals of the sixties; she's just put on film what our own imaginations might have wished for. There are moments that are unforgettable: (it's in the trailer) in which nearly nude women dancers, standing on the surface of the ocean, fall slowly into the water from their perches. There are other moments of animation such as when the poster of Uncle Sam comes to life to sing ("I Want You"). But it isn't just the moments; every song has a reason, every dance is grounded in the plot; every character in the film has a personality - and of course every one of them sings the Beatles' songs. This is a film to see more than once.