I don't know if I saw Across the Universe as much as I felt it. Sure, Julie Taymor's images -- at times both startling and beautiful -- caught my eye and imprinted on my brain. But this is a movie about music and how music makes you feel. It doesn't succeed as much as I wanted it to, but I find myself forgiving many of its failings (and the flaws are abundant) simply because the movie made me feel good. I left the theater humming some of my favorite Beatles songs, particularly a pretty great cover of "Hey Jude" and the crowd-pleasing final number, "All You Need Is Love."
Since this movie is basically one music number after another; the best way to approach the film is not unlike a music album. Very few albums are perfect and if you have five good tracks on a ten-track CD, you're doing all right. There are about 30-plus tracks in Across the Universe and I'd say I liked about 20 of them. That's pretty damn good.
The real question is do the tracks "come together?" Does it work? Director Julie Taymor fails on the whole, but it is a fun, sometimes fascinating failure. I was smiling a good deal watching this movie but I think the film could have been a little more centered. For the most part I liked the balance of reality and non-reality (always an interesting dynamic in musicals). I just wish the story was more focused, more emotionally operatic. The emotion is there, it just isn't squeezed for all it's worth because the film is distracted by converting too many Beatles songs to the big screen.
For example, the "Mr. Kite" sequence completely misfired for me, which is surprising because on paper I thought the song, the acid-tripping elements (or is it inspired by heroin?), and the casting of Eddie Izzard were spot-on. I knew the sequence would most likely be completely arbitrary going in, but to my disappointment, it just didn't coalesce at all. In fact, that entire road trip sequence which kind of begins with Bono singing "I Am The Walrus" throws the whole film out of whack for me (although there is one beautifully shot scene during this sequence where "Because" is featured).
The biggest problem with the film is it isn't sure what it wants to be. It wants to be this big sprawling cover of the '60s, but not really. It wants to be this small story about three young people coming of age in the '60s, but not really. It wants to be this sweet, heartbreaking story of two young lovers in the '60s, but not really. Conflicts and arcs of other supporting characters are established, but they are mostly abandoned or gift-wrapped with unsatisfactory resolutions in the final act. It left me scratching my head, wondering why sequences like "Dear Prudence" and a really interesting cover of ""I Want To Hold Your Hand"" (sung from a lesbian's point of view) are even featured, since the character at the center of these musical numbers doesn't seem to matter much in the end.
As it stands it's a kludge of half-baked ideas and a somewhat disjointed narrative. And yet, I walked out of the film with a smile on my face. Its central message speaks to the sap in me. In a really strange way (despite all the cinematic critical voodoo I cast upon this film) its magic and everlasting message, its heartfelt sappiness and unabashed silliness works for me the way those heartfelt, sappy and silly songs by those Brits in bowl haircuts always did. If you're willing to love it, you let an ambitious film like this in and you let its faults grow on you. All you need is love indeed.
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Dre writes three times a week for Film.com. He does a killer karaoke of "Rocky Racoon." Email him!