I missed this movie during its original run in theaters, mainly because I just couldn't drum up any interest among the beer swilling group of buddies that I run with. Probably a good thing too. Because once I finally sat down to watch this at home, I have to admit that I found myself choking back the tears during a few scenes.
Rule of thumb number one when it comes to the beer swilling buddies: never let them see you cry.
I actually found myself a bit surprised at how much I liked this film though. I've never been big on musicals, and when it comes to the Beatles I can also be a bit of a purist. Besides, the whole Beatles music put to a song and dance thing was already tried once with Cirque de Soleil's production of the Love record, right?
Anyway prejudices going in aside, I am happy to report that not only did Across The Universe win me over, it also had me reaching for the Kleenex box more than a few times. Basically a Romeo and Juliet sort of tragic love fable set to Beatles music during the turbulence of the sixties, the film centers on the relationships which develop among a group of characters who come together in a sort of communal living arrangement at a New York City apartment house.
Chief among these are Jude, a British transplant who comes to America originally to seek out the father who abandoned him as a child, and Lucy, who seems to be your basic smalltown all-American sort of girl from a fine, upstanding Christian family. When Lucy's boyfriend dies in Vietnam, it opens up several questions about who she actually is, and a romance soon develops with Jude, who has already become fast friends with her more rebellious brother Max (played with great gusto by Joe Anderson).
Eventually, they all find themselves living together in a New York apartment/commune that is owned by a Janis Joplin-like singer named Sadie. At this point, a number of subplots begin to develop with peripheral characters like Sadie's lover, a Hendrix-like guitarist named Jo-Jo, and a confused waif-like character named Prudence.
The storyline involving Sadie and Jo-Jo works for the most part, as one of this movie's two truly evil characters — a shady record industry guy — lures Sadie away from her life playing gigs at the neighborhood Cafe Huh (cleverly modeled after the Cafe Wha where Dylan got his start) for a shot at solo stardom. Meanwhile, as Lucy becomes more involved in the antiwar movement, she comes under the spell of an Abbie Hoffman rabble rouser type who has his own ulterior motives centering somewhere around Lucy's pants (and yes, you guessed right — he's the other evil guy).
This eventually leads to a showdown with Jude, which ends up getting him deported back to Liverpool — which is about the point I was reaching for the tissue box. Right before that though, the film takes an odd, psychedelic sort of left turn which is probably the only weak point here, as the whole gang gets on a Magical Mystery Tour sort of bus with Bono (cast here in a cameo role as Dr. Robert).
Together they all go out to meet Prudence (remember her?) who has apparently joined up with a circus show headed up by Mr. Kite, and taken on a presumably lesbian lover in Rita. This storyline is then dropped just as suddenly as it was first introduced. Well, at least until everybody gets back together at the end for a Let It Be style rooftop concert.
I liked this movie a lot more than I expected I would.
The choreographed dance scenes have just the right amount of psychedelic touch to give this an air of sixties authenticity, and the historical references to the times are pretty much dead on. The ensemble cast which is made up of largely unknown actors also does a tremendous job here, particularly Jim Sturgess as the idealistic lad from Liverpool Jude, and Dana Fuchs who really belts it out as the Joplin-esque Sadie.
The double disc edition also includes loads of great extras, including a missing scene set to the song "And I Love Her," as well as the usual director's commentaries and featurettes.
Again, just make sure that tissue box is nearby.