I caught Across the Universe on tv the other day. It’s the Julie Taymor-directed piece that flung Jim Sturgess into the spotlight, using Beatles songs to move the story forward. (Each of the six leads sing their little lungs out on screen – and jolly well too, it must be said.) At first this conceit struck me as a little bit formulaic and copy-catty – riding on the bandwagon of the whopping success of shows such as Glee and movies such as Mama Mia!– until I realised it was released in 2007 and thus predated both sing-a-long phenomenons by quite a bit. Without the cultural framework of the later productions though, I can see how this one falls flat(ish).
It’s the story of a chap called Jude who travels to the US to find his war-time father, and falls in with a wealthy drop-out called Max and his beautiful sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood – on top of everything, she even sings, dammit.) The storyboard of their lives is punctuated by Vietnam, the draft, hippy culture, the Detroit riots (not sure how that slipped in), and the anti-war movement – all to Beatles tracks rearranged and belted out anew.
Two iconic locations appear in the film: Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club ( a great pastiche at the opening of the film, highlighting the radical differences between Scouser Jude and the debutante Lucy) and Princeton, where Jude’s real Dad works as a janitor. Anyway, I must admit I mostly enjoyed it until it got a bit trippy and cartoony (a nod to Yellow Submarine?) and by then it had been too long and too irritating. You can see why Julie Taymor keeps getting the gigs though, even if she doesn’t quite pull it off.