A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Across the Universe

March 20, 2010

Across the Universe

Musicals are always fun.  For some reason I don’t generally have trouble enjoying a story where the characters randomly burst into song to advance the plot.  We have a few musicals in our collection, from the lighthearted fluff like Hairspray (based on a John Waters film!) to slightly odd stuff like Crybaby (which IS a John Waters film starring Johnny Depp) and dark creepy stuff like Sweeny Todd (also starring Johnny Depp.)  Today’s movie is something slightly other.  Using the pre-existing catalog of the Beatles’ Across the Universe is a big old musical about the sixties.  The characters still burst into song all the time, but now it’s all pre-existing songs that you’ve heard your whole life (if you’re my age) and already have all kinds of associations with.  I’m surprised by how well it works, really.

Of course because all the songs were written to be themselves, and not part of a musical, it has a very strange feel to it.  All the characters, for example, have names from songs, so that they they can sing about each other.  So you have Maxwell, Jude, Sadie, Prudence.. and so on.  It’s really well done, and the songs feel an integral part of the movie as a whole, but it still feels somewhat like a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, cobbled together from all these separate parts.  You keep wondering how they’re going to wedge in the next great Beatles hit.

Oh, man does it work when it works though!  Joe Cocker covering Come Together blew me away.  Let it Be moved me to tears.  And of course Julie Taymor is the only person strange enough to make something like this work.  Her big-production Broadway background (Lion King) and her strange visual style (Titus for example) work perfectly with this source material.

Still, the movie can’t help feeling a bit forced and manufactured at times.  There are a couple moments that are just people singing Beatles songs while momentous things unfold around them and the context doesn’t quite work.  (In particular, Strawberry Fields, for all that they tried to make it into a war protest song, just didn’t work for me.)  It feels like a lot of the magic is in the first half of the movie and then it’s just committed to getting through the rest of it to the end.  Maybe it’s that there’s not really anything new the be said here.  I mean it’s a kind of best-of-the-sixties-movies rehash set to Beatles music.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it.  I just didn’t buy it.  By the time it reaches its rooftop concert conclusion it’s spent all its energy.  I really felt like I should have been more moved than I was, and I just ended up feeling a little empty and manipulated.

One extra note:  I feel slightly foolish because I spent most of the movie trying to remember what Beatles song the character Lucy was named for.  And they didn’t even find a way to work it into the movie – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds plays over the closing credits in a very “Oh, damn, we forgot to fit that in there somehow” way.

We don’t own I Am Sam, but expect me o talk more about Beatles when we review The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

March 20, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,


  1. I really do love this movie. I love the integration of the music. Quite often in musicals, the music is sort of “in addition to” the dialogue, but in this film, the music is absolutely essential and in many cases takes the place of the dialogue. I suppose this is why you guys felt like the film was contrived or manufactured…it was. 🙂

    I’m really enjoying reading your guys’ thoughts on films.

    Comment by Trisha | March 20, 2010 | Reply

    • I think I get what you mean. In most musicals the music is created to fit the plot and characters, but in this one the plot and characters are created to fir the music. It must have been an interesting challenge to write it.

      Comment by tanatoes | March 21, 2010 | Reply

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