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Across the Universe

The ingenious Across the Universe is a musical along the lines of a Moulin Rouge, imaginatively interjecting popular songs--in this case, the Beatles repertoire--into the storyline. It's a real treat.


Set in the turbulent '60s, each character in Across the Universe represents a different aspect to the unstable times. There's naïve Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), whose eyes are opened to the possibilities of life beyond her WASPy, sheltered upbringing; adventurous Jude (Jim Sturgess), who breaks away from his Liverpool working-class roots to make it as an artist in New York; and Lucy's brother, Max (Joe Anderson), a college dropout who eventually gets drafted and sent to Vietnam. There's also Sadie (Dana Fuchs), a Janis Joplin-esque rock singer; her guitar-playing lover, Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), who hails from the riot-torn streets of Detroit; and even a burgeoning lesbian named Prudence (T.V. Carpio). They are all soon swept up into the '60s' emerging psychedelic, anti-war and counterculture movements, while Across the Universe lets the songs from one of the era's most influential bands tell the story. But what drives the film is Jude and Lucy's love for each other—and all you need is love, right?


You know you are in for something different when indie darling Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) is the most recognizable star. Luckily for Across the Universe, the cast of unknowns delivers--and then some. Making his film debut, newcomer Sturgess is a particular standout, looking very much like one of the Beatles boys in their heyday. His earnest performance as the love-struck Jude immediately hits a chord (pun intended), and he makes breaking out into a Beatles tune seem entirely natural. Wood doesn't seem as comfortable with the vocals, but the actress has a lovely voice--and, of course, handles Lucy's emotional ups and downs with aplomb. All the rest of the supporting cast does a wonderful job adding their own unique reinterpretations to the songs (and, yes, both "Hey, Jude" and "Dear Prudence" pop up). The big fun with Across the Universe, however, are the cameo appearances: Eddie Izzard sings "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" as a surreal circus ringleader; Joe Cocker sings "Come Together" alternating between a pimp, bum and hippie; Salma Hayek takes nursing to a new level in a "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" number; and finally, U2's Bono sings "I Am the Walrus" as the Beat poet/counterculturist Dr. Robert. You haven't experienced life until you've heard Bono sing, "Goo goo g'joob."


In any original musical, there is always something a little disconcerting when a character just breaks out into song, even if it's Julie Andrews standing on top of a mountain. But, as with Moulin Rouge, a character singing a song we all recognize--well, that's a little different. And honestly, who doesn't love Beatles music? Still, director Julie Taymor (Frida) took a big chance creating a musical around the legacy that is Beatlemania. It must have been a daunting task searching through the annals of Beatles music to find just the right tunes for just the right moment--but her extremely inventive ways truly pay off. From Uncle Sam screaming "I Want You!" from a poster hanging in an Army recruiting office, to Max and his college buddies running around campus belting out "With a Little Help from My Friends," everything fits, taking us on this journey of life, love and self-enlightenment. Although Taymor's forte clearly lies with the very wild and artistic, most evident in Across the Universe's psychedelic acid trips, she also expertly highlights the stark reality of a turbulent time. Taymor is a romantic at heart, though—a romantic who adores the Beatles. John Lennon would be proud.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.