ACROSS THE UNIVERSE , for a project obviously put together with great affection, had the weird, unexpected effect of fiercely dividing viewers. They really liked it (count me), or they thought it was awful. Hardly the first journey into stylization that worked such a reaction split—Raising Arizona leaps to mind—this one dares tread on musical territory that some regard as perhaps sacrosanct. What many saw as a heartfelt tribute, they took as a cheesy pilfer.
Whatever, you can’t win ’em all. This had me beaming, laughing, remembering, touched , teary-eyed—occasionally practically giddy. It sounds like a rather huge, possibly pretentious, and certainly “mushy” thing to say—but this movie made me feel… Love. Spoilsports, am I to feel somehow bad about that? Not to worry, I know for a fact it had the same effect on many others as I did on me, none of them inclined to be easily fooled by pretense or a snowjob.
I like/love The Beatles, though I’m not quite so devoted as those irked by this playing with their catalog. (Plus, I’m more of a Stonesman, if you want to demolish a pub over it.) I prefer the Fab’s earlier rockin’ rolls to their later, arty riffs—but here, the wondrous staging and heartfelt performing of scads of those later works put them in a whole new light for me, decades after their release. It felt like hearing them for the first time.
People wear out welcomes blabbering about directors with a personal style and vision, especially if it’s someone whose ‘look’ they like or that they stubbornly pick out to champion above the crowd.
Taking the bait then, orchestrating this trip (and ‘trip’ really applies) is Julie Taymor, who did a good job breathing fresh spear-shaking into Shakespeare with Titus, and a great job with Frida, one of the best visualizations of the creative process to date. Here, she lets it rip— in waves of beauty, zest, observation, empathy, goofiness: it had me wax nostalgic in a way that was quite different from other takes on “the good old days”–which, as I not-so-dimly recall, were filled not only with incense & peppermints, but also teargas & billy clubs. I felt…tenderness.
Maybe I’m ancient enough now that watching the children of the 60s (and they really were kids—smart and concerned and passionate and indulgent—but still just kids) as they exchange their play-sets for mindsets kindled something like pride, almost like a grandparent would have (or ought to). Taymor’s endlessly inventive, energetic, phantasmagoria approach had me from start to close.
A cast of unknowns, with several fun surprises (I take back huffy things I’ve said about Bono—he’s great in his bit here), and enough psychedelia to give you a flashback: it actually looks like things felt. One great damn song after another.
If you have a fixed idea of how beloved tunes should be treated, or if you feel it somehow defeats unsentimental intellect to let your guard down and–feel—then maybe you won’t buy this story. Groovy. I did, it made me feel… good. Hey, McCartney, Yoko and Ringo liked it, so chill the scornstorm, puristas.
Thirty-four compositions decorate the 133 minutes of this vignette-hopping 2007 story, done on a budget of $45,000,000. Reviews were mixed, split along lines alluded to, and box-office results were disappointing, tagging only $29,400,000.
With Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, T.V. Carpio (sigh), Martin Luther McCoy, Salma Hayek, Eddie Izzard, Joe Cocker. An Oscar nominee for Costume Design, and cheated of one that should have gone to Julie Taymor’s direction. I’d have tossed Jason Reitman’s spot for the con-job Juno (speaking of divisive styles) and made room for Miss Julie on the list. They did not ask me….