Yesterday afternoon, I went to see Across the Universe with my amazing youngest sister-in-law. It is a sign of my status as a totally out of touch mom that I hadn't even heard of this film before yesterday. In college, I am sure I would have been counting down the days until its release and engaging in endless discussion about it. In other words, this is the film I haven been waiting for my entire life without even knowing it.
In case you are as cut off from the real world as I, the movie is a gritty, edgy musical set in the Vietnam era and based on the music of the Beatles. Words cannot really do it justice. It is better experienced than talked about. The makers of the film began by choosing the songs that they felt best fit the era and let the lyrics build the story. It revolves around the love story of the two main character, Jude and Lucy, and Lucy's brother, Max, who gets shipped off to Vietnam. Sexy Sadie, JoJo, and Prudence are the other main characters. And Bono plays a bit part as Dr. Robert. The film begins more grounded in the domesticity of the sixties, and slowly succumbs to the choas, confusion, and passion of the Vietnam era, providing an honest look at the emotions of the time.
I had a few fears going into the film, and none of them came true. First, I feared that this would be an idealistic view of the antiwar movement, making the hippies look good and their parents look bad. But a few key scenes helped to show the complexity of the time and managed to suspend judgment.
Second, I feared that this would be a musical. By that I mean a schmaltzy, stilted, break out in song-and-dance sort of film with no real story. Instead, the music was seamlessly integrated into the film. There were still some wacky choreographed song and dance numbers, but they worked. I'm not really sure why...maybe because they echoed some of the Beatles own wacky stuff and maybe because of the whole atmosphere of drug-induced hallucinations that one can associate with the time.
My greatest fear was that the filmakers would ruin the music. I admit that I was somewhat comforted when I read that T-Bone Burnett helped with the music. I was blown away when I heard it. It was fantastic, better than any Beatles tribute album could hope to be. The music flowed from the setting, and it wasn't a cheap reproduction of all the Beatles favorites. Each song had a fresh, often stripped down, quality that still paid tribute to the legacy of the Beatles. The songs worked because the film gave an honest look at the era in which those songs were written...or perhaps vice-versa.
Needless to say, if you like the Beatles, you have to see this movie. Even if you don't, it was an amazing, if somewhat bizarre, experience. The movie I have been waiting for my entire life. Really.