The exact youthful energy, yearning innocence and reckless abandon that Baby Boomers brought to the world-altering ’60s is packed into Across the Universe, Julie (Frida, The Lion King) Taymor’s deceptively complex romp through the dawning of the age of counter-cultural awakening.
Ambitiously rife with imagination and spunk, the film takes Boomers on a magical mystery tour through the soundtrack of their coming of age.
That would be the Beatles, whose songs are re-awakened by the young cast who sing their way through a slender tale of boys and girls, hippies and wannabes, worlds colliding and tripping into the psychedelic fantastic. For any viewer old enough to remember all the lyrics, this film will more than reward its overly-long (and sometimes hokey) feast of sights and sounds.
Joe Alexander is brilliant as Max (above left), whose sister Lucy (in the sky with …played by Evan Rachel Wood) falls in love with a young Liverpudlian Jude (Jim Sturgess, above right). The three aim for New York’s Greenwich Village during the rise of sex, drugs, rock’n’ roll and the Vietnam War. Pitting pot-fueled silliness against the climate of activism, the film deftly (well, mostly deftly) weaves a tender (and slender) love story through the wild antics of draft dodging, tripping and communal hormones that powered the late 60s.
A cast of colorful sidekicks helps to power the main themes, which include an irresistible portrait of male bonding and friendship. The chemistry between the two young friends, college drop-out Max and workingclass hero Jude, is spot on. Sturgess particularly is precocious and affecting. How bittersweet it is that Jude’s plea — “All you need is love” — has turned out to be so wrong. All I needed at the end of the film was more. More of that richly believed-in pre-global warming innocence, energy and hope. Incredibly prolific by today’s standards, the Beatles’ music laced every waking hour of life during a particularly potent, pivotal decade. Taymor remembers what it felt like, and even with moments that don’t work, so much of her film does that you will find yourself lost in that universe for days afterward.
Some of Across the Universe‘s psychedelic light-show riffs are lovely, but predictable eye-candy. Other images – ignited by the iconic tunes – “Let it Be” or “Blackbird” – are pulverizingly original. And unforgettable. Just like those days.
Go see it – surrender to it – even though as you leave the theater and into the thin legacy of those times you’ll feel sad and cheated. Not by the film. But by what happened after the music stopped. You may call me a dreamer….