Thursday, February 14, 2008
Across The Universe
Preface: In general I don't like musicals. On stage they are usually vapid, trite, story-less excursions into the pointless depths kitsch and glitz. On screen they are usually even worse. I can only think of two movie musicals that deserve more than a single viewing...Little Shop of Horrors and Chicago. At least that was how I thought until last night.
Across the Universe is a love story, and an anti-war story, and a buddy story, and a fish-out-of-water story, and a history lesson all rolled up in the glorious music of the Beatles. Jude, a Liverpudlian, travels to 1960's America, befriends a bunch of NYC bohemians, and falls in love. That about sums up the spine of the flick, but it's the flesh on those fairly ordinary bones that make this a wonderful film. Everyone in the movie is named from a Beatles song; Max, Sadie, Prudence, Lucy, JoJo, etc. The New York they live in is a stylized mixture of Bob Mackie and The Wiz. The costumes and settings are timeless, yet period. And the music...ah the music. One would expect that a musical that draws all its songs from a single group's work would at times feel contrived in order to make the songs fit, but that never happens. I credit both the film makers, and the Beatles, for finding just the right songs for every single moment. And many times the meaning of a song, for example I Want You So Bad, can be both tender and frightening simultaneously. The vocal performances, with a few notable exceptions, are marvelous. Those exceptions are Bono doing a very stilted American accent while performing I Am The Walrus, and Eddie Izzard's spoken word version of Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite , but they were minor flaws in this gem of a movie. At the risk of sounding cliché I literally laughed, cried, and thought during the flick. Couched in the symbolism of the Viet Nam protests were very relevant jabs at Iraq, and the ending, while predictable, just managed to avoid being sickeningly sweet.
This may not be for everyone, and it is a tad long, but if a well performed, beautifully staged, and very artistic movie is your cup of tea, then put the kettle on and settle back for a lovely ride.