Shuffling through The Beatles' back catalogue, director Julie Taymor presents a very forward-thinking musical. Across The Universe is, essentially, a psychedelic trip fronted by British actor Jim Sturgess playing young artist Jude (as in, 'Hey...'). In the midst of social upheaval in 60s America, he becomes love-struck by Evan Rachel Wood as freethinker Lucy ('In The Sky With Diamonds'). But the love story really takes second place to a wild carnival of sights and sounds.
Jude sets off from dreary Liverpool and eventually winds up in colourful Greenwich Village, New York. He shares a house with all manner of kooks and creative types, including his best friend's sister Lucy. Inevitably, she becomes his muse, but their bond is tested when she begins spending more time publicly protesting against The Vietnam War. The Civil Rights movement also gets a shout, but Taymor must subscribe to the theory of a random universe, because all of these ideas and subplots come together in a way that's barely coherent.
"A MERRY DANCE TO NOWHERESVILLE"
Whilst the politics of the film continue to resonate, all that is very much a back note. Rather than engaging young minds, Taymor dazzles them with admittedly arresting images. Similar to her Kahlo biopic Frida, she inventively blends animation, live action and digital effects to create a world that's just a few notches brighter than reality. Sensory overload makes this journey a little wearying, and some sequences feel completely redundant, eg, a musical number featuring Eddie Izzard as a ringmaster of blue-faced freaks. Bono gets an even more indulgent cameo as a cowboy-cum-hippy, performing a fine rendition of 'I Am The Walrus' before leading us a merry dance to Nowheresville. Thankfully, Sturgess keeps the film grounded with a rumpled, earthy charm, and Wood brings much-needed emotional depth. And yes, the songs will strike a chord as well.
Across The Universe is out in the UK on 28th September 2007.