Sunday, September 30, 2007

Across the Universe (2007, Julie Taymor)

There's a good reason why Beatles songs are covered again and again- aside from the band's enduring popularity, the songs are compulsively singable. However, most people can't resist the temptation to over-sing- whereas the Beatles themselves generally sang the songs pretty straightforwardly, most who cover them feel the need to squeeze every drop of emotion from the lyrics, tricking them up in order to make them their own. This is one of my big issues with Taymor's film as well- she just can't stay out of the way of the songs. She lavishes layers of visual pageantry on songs that don't really need the extra goosing. For the most part, the numbers that are most effective are the ones that are fairly straightforward- the dual-funeral "Let It Be," "Because" in nine-part harmony, and especially Martin Luther McCoy's take on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Meanwhile, the big production numbers are mostly labored, none more so than the Army-induction number that funds a group of new draftees carrying the Statue of Liberty on their backs while singing "She's So Heavy." The screenplay doesn't help matters- the format is little more than the miniseries The 60s but with all-Beatles music, and too often the transitions between the songs and the dramatic scenes are forced and obvious, as when a lovesick girl named Prudence locks herself in a closet. Gee, wonder what song her friends will sing to cheer her up? Might have been more interesting- if not necessarily better- had Taymor ditched the spoken dialogue altogether and made the movie all Beatles, all the time. There was a dust-up earlier this year between Taymor and studio head Joe Roth when Roth tried to pare down this movie. Now, I don't condone studio intrusion on an artist's vision, but on the basis of the three films she's made to date, Taymor could really use someone to keep her more indulgent side in check. Not studio meddling, mind you, but friendly constructive criticism. Someone to tell her, say, that the Eddie Izzard version of "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" serves no purpose in the film, shoots the pacing all to hell, and is incredibly annoying to boot. Rating: 4 out of 10.

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