'Across the Universe' is a chaotic, utterly misconceived, muddle of a film. It is a Beatles musical, replete with over 30 renditions of Beatles songs by the actors themselves, ranging from brutal to passable. This is all set against the backdrop of 1960s America, with the Vietnam War, emerging hippie counterculture and a token nod to the racial strife of the time.
Director Julie Taymor, who directed the 2002 film 'Frida', depicting the life of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, seems to have bitten off more than she can chew with this film. Her distinctive visual flair is apparent here, but the film is let down by a painful lack of subtlety and a concept that simply doesn't work.
We meet Jude (Sturgess), a Liverpudlian dockworker with an itch to see more of the world. He travels to America and seeks out his father, whom he's never met; who it turns out is a janitor in Princeton. Along the way he makes friends with well-to-do college student Max (Anderson) and his beautiful young sister Lucy (Wood).
Max, rebelling against his upper middle class existence, drops out of college and goads Jude into accompanying him to New York. They move into a flat with a mishmash of cool and radical characters and immerse themselves in East Village life.
Their landlord is a Janis Joplin-esqe singer called Sadie (Fuchs), with an on-off guitarist boyfriend Jo-Jo (Luther) who is inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Then there is Prudence (Carpio), a lesbian who harbours a secret crush on Sadie, but who seems only to exist in the film so the other characters can sing 'Dear Prudence' to her to coax her out of hiding in a closet.
Lucy comes to spend the summer with Max and falls in love with Jude, but their idyllic, bohemian lifestyle is soon interrupted by Max being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Lucy becomes more radicalised and active in an anti-war organisation, and Jude becomes alienated from her. Sturgess and Wood both put in good leading performances, playing star-crossed lovers with ease.
The film is let down by the slight plot, which seems to be shoehorned together to suit the needs of The Beatles' back catalogue at hand. Although it is an exceptionally elaborate production, and at times visually stunning, there is a sense of overload, such as the scene of strawberry bombs crashing over Vietnam.
Essentially the film suffers at the hands of its over-ambition, unnecessary lengthy running time and the way it takes itself too seriously. In fact, the only humour to be derived from the film is in scenes that are unintentionally funny, such as Bono's cameo as Dr Robert, a hippie guru, which plunges the film into an even more hallucinatory realm. It is its sense of self-importance that lets 'Across the Universe' down in the end, although it feels like a labour of love, it proves love isn't all you need.