Last week, I rented Across the Universe -- y'know, that new Beatles movie that doesn't have the Beatles in it. Or any stars. Or a coherent storyline. I'm still reeling from how much I disliked this movie. And part of the reason I'm so pissed off is because there's another part of me that really enjoyed it. The part that likes anything involving the Beatles. The part that couldn't help being sucked in.
I don't even know where to begin. The movie is so all over the place it's impossible to talk about it in an organized fashion. For the uninitiated let me give you the conceit of the film: "Hey, what if we make a movie that only has about 40 lines of dialog and fill in the rest with lyrics from unassociated Beatles songs?"
Did they pull it off? Well, let's examine the plot and you can decide. At this point, I'd normally say SPOILER ALERT to those of you who still want to see the film, but that would be like giving a warning about a possible fecal odor to someone who was bent on diving headfirst into a pile of manure.
The Plot And Characters Of Across the Universe
The movie relies upon ridiculous archetypal characters, hoping that their mere recognizability will spare the producers from actually having to flesh out their identities through writing. That works out great because the script is not about Mean Mr. Mustard or Maxwell Silver Hammer and, therefore, with little exception, the filmmakers can't actually use the Beatles lyrics to tell us anything about these characters.
Here we go:
Jude (a dude from Liverpool who looks like a ragged Paul McCartney, acts like John Lennon, and sings like Ewan MacGregor) leaves England to find his long lost American Dad.
Once there, he meets Max --- a Princeton student who is James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. (His stodgy dad is tearing him apart too, but instead of being played by the dad Jim Backus, dad is played by Doc Connors from the Spider-Man movies. Oh, and Max's uncle is
Mr. Noodle, but I digress.) Anyway, Jude and Max become instant best friends for no clear reason and Max drops out of school so they can both go to New York.
Once in New York, they find a loft for rent from a very sensual landlady named Sadie (or "Sexy Sadie"). Sadie, by the way, is Janis Joplin. Why wouldn't she be?
The producers apparently thought there weren't enough disparate elements so they also added ---I shit you not--- an Asian lesbian cheerleader who runs away from home, goes to New York, and crashes with Jude and Max after she "comes in through the bathroom window." You could eliminate her from the movie completely and nothing would change, except that her name is Prudence and if you cut her then you wouldn't be able to sing "Dear Prudence" which apparently was a song the producers really wanted in the movie.
Janis Joplin Sadie has a black guitarist boyfriend coming to town. Any guesses? That's right, it's "JoJo." And when I say "JoJo," I mean, of course, Jimi Hendrix.
Around this time, Max's little sister Lucy comes to live with big brother so that Jude and she can fall in love. This is like 40 minutes in, which is a problem considering this is supposed to be a love story. But you have to admire the producers' restraint. Her character's name was originally just "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and/or love interest."
Then Max get's drafted and the best scene in the movie happens when we see the enlistment office to the tune of "I Want You/She's So Heavy." That scene actually takes the lyrics to a Beatles song and recreates them in a way that advances plot. It's one of only two or three songs in the movie that does that:
O.K. back to the crap. Before Max goes off to war he, Lucy, and Jude go to a hip NY party thrown by "Dr. Robert." Loser Beatle fans like me get a little hard from that reference because Dr. Robert is a Lennon Murphy John Lennon song about the dentist who first gave John and George acid at a party. But "Dr. Robert" is NOT a dentist. Instead this Dr. Robert is, apparently, Ken Kesey in full Merry Prankster form, and he's played by none other than Bono. I can't fully convey to you how much Bono sucked in this movie. The only thing worse than his American accent was his version of "I Am The Walrus." In fairness, it did suck slightly less than U2's version of "Helter Skelter" which is maybe the worst cover in the history of rock.
Dr. Robert takes Max, Lucy, and Jude cross country to meet another sixties acid-dropping radical, Dr. Timothy Leary. But they don't call him Dr. Leary. They call him "Dr. Geary," and it's Eddie Izzard and he sings a trippy version of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite."
"Wait!" say those of you who enjoy parallel structure. If Ken Kesey was "Dr. Robert," why not make Dr. Leary "Mr. Kite"? Or if Dr. Leary is "Dr. Geary" then why wasn't Ken Kesey, "Ken Gesey?"
I have no idea. You might as well ask how the movie managed to make Eddie Izzard unfunny or why you would need two trip out scenes in one flick or how a hot Asian, lesbian cheerleader can't seem to get laid in the middle of New York during the age of free love.
Anyway, Max goes off to 'nam and gets a head injury which doesn't seem to do much more than make him look like Kurt Cobain. (pre-suicide.) Then Janis and Jimi break up and reunite. Then Jude and Lucy break up because she starts hanging out too much with Jerry Rubin, or Tom Hayden, or Abbie Hoffman or whoever the bearded vaguely Semitic radical was supposed to be. Then they get back together when Jude sings
All You NeedIs Love on the roof like The Beatles did in their Get Back performance. And Prudence smiles while she continues to wonder what the fuck she's doing in the movie.
And as much as it all sucked I watched it all. Twice.
Why? Because the Beatles wrote some of the greatest songs of all time. Most of the new arrangements were absolutely perfect. And many of the visuals were striking as well.
And that's really the reason I'm so mad. So much care and thought went into this movie in so many areas that it makes all the thoughtless, stupid decisions that much more offensive.
And you can bet everything you have that when it comes on cable I will watch it again while cursing the screen.
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