I'M A SUCKER for an interesting mess. Combine that fact with a 33-song Beatles musical and one of my favorite directors (Julie Taymor, of Titus and Frida fame), and how can I not fall head over heels for Across the Universe, one of the biggest, noisiest, most irksome messes that's come along in a while. But that's also what makes it so freakin' great.
From the opening minute, Across the Universe hits you like a ton of Fab Four bricks, as Liverpudlian Jude (my new boyfriend, Jim Sturgess) sings about "a girl you want so much it makes you sorry"—a girl named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). And what follows is a thin love story that spans the '60s. The "plot" centers on Jude traveling to America to find his father, and befriending Max (Joe Anderson) and his sister, Lucy. And as the clean-cut '60s get harrier, the trio moves to New York to enmesh themselves in the psychedelic scene. But the plot is just an end to a means—to set the stage for a full-on bombast of Beatles songs that soundtrack the decade.
When Across the Universe is on—boy howdy, is it on. Like when Max undergoes his Army induction: Young men in their underwear are probed, prodded, and processed via conveyer belts by creepy mask-wearing GI Joes while "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" blares. Or after Max gets back from Vietnam and he's begging his nurse (or rather five nurses, all played by Salma Hayek in a sexy nurse outfit) for a hit of morphine, as wounded soldiers' beds flit and fly around the hospital ward.
But the good of Across the Universe is overwhelmed by the clichéd and the embarrassingly bad—there's the inappropriate bursting into song every two seconds, the psychedelic swirly freakout of riding on Dr. Roberts' (played by the butt-cringing Bono) prankster bus, and a the reliance on cutesy in-jokes.
Taymor's film has had a tough time of it: Studio executives attempted to take away her final cut, and at one point she threatened to remove her name from the film. When watching the final version, it's hard to say if Taymor got to put her finishing touches on it—there are several points where her patented flourishes shine bright, only to be butted up against some of the most artless scenes from the film. But goddamn, it's still a blast to watch.