Across the Universe is disarming, discombobulating and disappointing. Director Julie Taymor has torn page after page from the Beatles' songbook and used it to assemble an allusive pop history of the 1960s. At the film's core is a love story that encompasses the Fab Four's Liverpool, England, roots, American flower power and the increasing despair and division of the Vietnam era. But contrivance overpowers inspiration. With characters named after Beatles titles and echoes of McCartney-Lennon and George Harrison lyrics peppered into the setups and dialogue, the movie is like a fresco done in prefab slabs. Some sections delight the eye and ear; too many crash like falling rocks, shredding the facade.
Despite Taymor's reputation for visionary theatricality (built on the movies Titus and Frida and the stage adaptation of The Lion King), what she's made has the wispiness of a daydream. It's like reveries Beatles fans had in pre-MTV days while lolling in a dorm room and listening to Abbey Road, but without the freshness or originality. The scenario originated in the minds of veteran British screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who wrote the delightful Alan Parker Irish rock film The Commitments). They concoct a coming-of-age romance between Jude (Jim Sturgess), a Liverpool boy who goes stateside to seek his Second World War-veteran father, and Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a suburban teen goddess and the sister of Jude's best American friend, Max (Joe Anderson), a Princeton dropout turned New York cabbie (and counterculture hedonist).
Across the Universe (Sony) Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, T.V. Carpio. Directed by Julie Taymor. Rated PG-13. Time 131 minutes.