Friday, January 18, 2008

You take that side and I'll take this...

I don't think I hated Across the Universe, but at points I certainly came very close. The easily identifiable problem about this film is that it has no substance. Oh, you can say it's about revolution, as I did when one of my friends (who liked it) asked us "but what was it about?", but the film is no more about revolution than it is about lesbianism or psychedelica, although it certainly spends a lot more time deliberating morosely over the former than the latter two. It checks about every box it can think of but is interested in nothing more than doing so. Instead, director Julie Taymor (of the bloody Shakespeare adaptation Titus, which I haven't seen, and the shruggable Frida, which I have) throws about every bizarre image and technique that pops into her head at you and hopes some of them stick. Very few do.

The problem is not that people suddenly start singing Beatles songs (although they generally do it rather badly), or even that Taymor has the extras around the singers start doing dances/movements, its that the two don't fit together. Why, I asked, as the audience laughed at the preposterousness of it, does T.V. Carpio, a Vietnamese lesbian cheerleader named Prudence (oh yes), sing 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' with the footballer players doing some kind of slapstick tumbling around her? Well, I think the answer to that is pretty obvious. Taymor thought it would look good. It doesn't. It looks ridiculous. (Incidentally, Carpio is probably the best thing here: not only can she actually sing, but she makes a cliched non-character more than the points the film wants to identify her with, and leaves you longing to see more of her. A wish not granted.)

When the film's imagery trips into the clearly bizarre, such as naked underwater kissing between the two leads (a flat Evan Rachel Wood and an acceptable Jim Sturgess, who sounds more like Oasis than the Beatles) or a canvas lined with bleeding strawberries, it's not so hard to cope with. But then something like an apartment literally becoming the sky (for no reason that I could comprehend) and you have to laugh or you'll cry at the appauling claptrap you're being fed. It pretends to think, to have opinions about things, but it simply presents them to you instead.

"Hey, look, Evan Rachel Wood is joining the revolution, and that's cool, right, because she's a hot young chick but she's actually got something going on upstairs, you know? But, natch, the Liverpudlian she loves will show her what's right by being an unsupportive selfish bastard, and anyway, those revolutionaries are as bad as the government anyway, right, so let's sing a song and stare at Evan's pretty face! 'Cause who cares about politics, right? Look at this cool film stock reversal technique instead!"

You know what? I did kind of hate it after all. D+

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