29 Days of Romance, Review #16: Across the Universe (2007)

 

Directed by: Julie Taymor. Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson. Runtime: 2h 13 min. Released: October 9, 2007.

So far in my 29 Days of Romance series, I haven’t liked Footloose, Midnight in Paris or Blue Valentine but Across the Universe just takes the cake in films I didn’t like.

It’s a romance set in the 1960s between an artist from Liverpool, Jude (Jim Sturgess) and upper-class American, Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). If their names didn’t give it away, the story is set to the music of The Beatles, as it uses the Vietnam War and anti-war protests as the background for the story.

The film’s first 40 minutes had wonderful music sequences. “It Won’t Be Long” with Evan Rachel Wood was simple but effective, and both “I’ve Just Seen a Face” set at a bowling alley and Prudence’s (T.V. Carpio) singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” were all fantastic and had a strong visual style. Still, the structure of the film had problems at the start as it feels disjointed introducing its characters.

This problem was most prominent at the start of a double funeral to the tune of “Let it Be” as it depicts the 1967 Detroit Riots where one of our main characters, Jo-Jo (Martin Luther), a guitarist, has a son who dies in the riots. It just feels like a random scene as the son starts singing during the carnage. It’s a bad way to introduce the character who then moves to New York and starts singing with Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and meets the rest of the characters.

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Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood in Across the Universe. (IMDb)

To this point, there was some high fantasy and style during some of the musical sequences, but it felt charming and grounded, never distracting from the scene. However, director Julie Taymor abandoned that when this jumped the shark and changed into something else. Max (Joe Anderson), Lucy’s brother and Jude’s friend who introduces the pair, goes to the enlisting office because he’s being forced to enlist after dropping out of Princeton.

He’s met with an animated Uncle Sam singing “I Want You” and a group of nightmarish soldiers who look like a mix between the toy green soldiers and Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove. Seriously, their chins are straight out of a horror film. The visual style is interesting, but this was just too bizarre for me. Then there was an acid-trip kind-of scene where Bono shows up as Dr. Robert to sing “I Am the Walrus,” and the music in this scene is the final highlight of the film.

The characters go on a bus with him where they eventually meet Mr. Kite (Eddie Izzard), who looks like he’s in a cult with these blue people, creatures that look like they just escaped from Fegan Floop’s TV show in Spy Kids and went to something much weirder. I didn’t know I was in store for something so weird with this film and thought it would be a musical with fantasy elements, but I was not ready for bizarre this became.

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Eddie Izzard and Fegan Floop’s rejects in Across the Universe. (IMDb)

With its bizarre style and hallucinogenic scenes, it was surprising they never played “Yellow Submarine” and maddening they didn’t play “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” until the end credits. The storytelling became a mess and I thought it lost all sense of plot as it became music video after music video, each trying to be stranger than the last. The songs seemed to usually fit its themes, though for “Strawberry Fields” it’s a weak transition where Jude simply looks at a bowl of strawberries, sings, pins them on a canvas and calls it art. It’s a stylish montage that I despised, and I don’t use that word lightly. I really dislike style-over-substance kind-of films, and for 80 minutes, this just abandoned substance.

The romance between Jude and Lucy is dull as Lucy fights for the cause in the anti-war movement and Jude works on his art. They just show how boring and one-note they are. Across the Universe felt disjointed as it introduced its characters, and since there was so much going on, it seemed like these characters were interesting (and Prudence truly is interesting as a lesbian who could not express her love for anyone). But when it focuses squarely on Jude and Lucy when every other major character is sidelined, they showed that their substance was simply a mirage.

I started hating this and wanted the spirit of the first 40 minutes back. As for the acting, Jim Sturgess can’t lip sync but he’s fine in the real acting, and Evan Rachel Wood is generally very good. Her singing is pretty, but the singing is unremarkable elsewhere. I love the Beatles but hated this story, and I just started shouting song recommendations at my TV. By the time it got to “Hey Jude” or even the titular “Across the Universe,” I was fed up with this.

Score: 40/100

 

 

 

(August 21) Happy birthday Hayden Panettiere (23), Peter Weir (68) and Carrie-Anne Moss (45)

                                           Hayden Panettiere

The sexy New York native just turned 23 today. Hayden has a pretty impressive résumé. She was on the soap opera One Life to Live at the age of four and a half; and later appeared for four years starting at the age of seven on the soap opera The Guiding Light. She was the voice of Dot in A Bug’s Life, and the voice of Kate in the poorly acclaimed animated film Alpha and Omega. She’s appeared beside great screen presences like Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, and Tim Allen in Joe Somebody. She is also well known for being in Racing Stripes, and being the star on the TV show Heroes as the invincible Claire Bennet. And just last year, horror fans may know her for her role as Kirby Reed in Scream 4 (also called Scre4m, but I don’t like spelling it that way). She is pretty talented and also very attractive, and I just love watching her act.

Peter Weir

 This Australian director and sometimes writer just turned 68 today. He’s well known for taking great comedy actors and turning them into awesome dramatic actors, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. His latest project in 2010 was the star-studded (Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan) adventure drama The Way Back, which he wrote the screenplay for and directed. He has been nominated for six Oscars: one for Best Writing for Green Card; one for Best Picture for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; and four for Best Director for the films Master and CommanderThe Truman ShowDead Poets Society, and Witness. Pretty impressive career.

Carrie-Anne Moss

This Canadian (born in Vancouver, B.C.) turned 45 today. She is best known for her role as Trinity in The Matrix trilogy, and also well-known for her roles in MementoChocolat alongside Johnny Depp, and in Disturbia.

   Happy birthday guys.