First, a couple points:
I dislike the Beatles.
I dislike musicals.
So why do I own Across the Universe? If you haven’t heard of this film it is a musical featuring only Beatles’ music, performed by the cast and used to tell a love story during the 70’s. The Beatles themselves are not in the movie, or alluded to, or mentioned, just their music.
It’s a tricky idea, having to fit a script around pre-created music, but one that is handled admirably. Various songs are used to not only get across ideas of a character but also character traits; case in point, our introduction to Prudence is on a football field where she sings “I wanna hold your hand” while gazing at the quarterback and his girlfriend, the quarterback walks off and her gaze remains on the girlfriend. It’s almost a quiet moment and it works beautifully to set up the character and her motivation in the film. Actually, a knock on this film would be that there is far too little of Prudence; I find her singing amazing and enjoy her performances in the film.
The film covers an extended period of time in which a variety of characters all come together, to said song no less, and rejoice in their independence. Life eventually strolls up and it begins to shake the bonds that have worked hard to build with all the problems of the era: Vietnam war, the death of Martin Luther King, greed, and jealousy. It’s a pretty basic story, but one told well and in a unique manner. Though I should warn you that the drug use of the era is reflected in this movie, it’s shown in a couple scenes but for the most part it’s implied with cinematography and setting. A good example of this is a barrage of music in the film that goes from a party, to a bus ride, to a circus, to a calm swim; and then reality slams into place.
It’s really difficult to describe this movie without dropping spoilers, and because so much of the substance is in the music. It really must be seen to comprehend, just be warned it can get a little over the top.
On the negative side I would point out that it does feel a bit long, and there is of course a period of darkness in the film. Also one problem here is an inherent one in musicals, I don’t like all the songs but it’s hard to just skip to the ones I do like. I mentioned I’m not a Beatles fan, but here the cast spins fresh takes on most of them and I find it works really well, but there are the occasional pieces that just bore me but I can’t skip ahead for fear of missing the plot or jarring myself out of the film. These are minor points but they must be made.
I’m not a big fan of musicals, I find multiple musical performances to be a poor way to tell a story, but Across the Universe succeeds in telling its story well. I was tricked into watching it, but have since bought the DVD and own the soundtrack. I give it a 4/5.