Julie Taymor, director of Broadway's "The Lion King" and motion pictures such as Frida and Titus, brings a whimsically theatrical passion to Across the Universe which relates the turbulent 1960s through the music of the Beatles.
Exhilirating, eclectic, and perhaps exhausting for those not enamored by the likes of Moulin Rouge, Across The Universe shifts with visual aplomb from Liverpool to Greenwich Village, from Detroit to the battlefield of Vietnam.
Jim Sturgess is Jude who has been without a dad growing up in Liverpool, so he becomes a crewmate heading for America. There he joins up with Princeton student Max, an ebullient Joe Anderson (Becoming Jane) and his sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood of Running With Scissors).
The restlessness of the plot has the trio enjoying a bohemian apartment with spunky singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs), standout guitarist JoJo (Martin Luther), along with former cheerleader Prudence (TV Carpio).
U2's lead vocalist Bono has a choice part as Dr. Robert who gives the groovy folks a ride aboard his magic bus while doing "I Am The Walrus". "All You Need Is Love" becomes a motif as Jude and Lucy try to manage their increasingly close feelings for one another. The grim backdrop being evident through Vietnam and the civil rights moment.
The colorful production allows those willing to be swept away in a trippy way with imagination in the imagery, mirroring the career of the Fab Four. At turns it could be seen as too absurd in a hippie way, but the love story is buoyed by some wry energy.
Taymor keeps it all varied and textured with a sure hand without all the pretentiousness that be viewed as excessive cinematic baggage. Similar to Baz Luhrman's splendor with Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor, she finds a way to connect the dots from the club and artsy, drug scene, and politics through strangely vibrant song arrangements, with Eddie Izzard's "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" being a showstopper.
A stirring high point comes forth in protest, before which some may not feel the power of this somewhat thin, if sensitively drawn love story. But, Sturgess and Wood (quite effective in the unnerving Thirteen) are good together in a surreal way as the numbers have a strangely intriguing presentation to them. Even Anderson and the agile Carpio offer strong vocal and actorly support.
From the lovely "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "If I Fell", and "Let It Be", to "With A Little Help From My Friends" and "Strawberry Fields Forever", among many other selections, the serenity and sorrow find a surprising resonance in this inspired, odd, outrageousness, at least a lengthy, clever tribute to the Beatles.