A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although there's much to like about this Beatles-inspired musical -- it's visionary, it introduces young audiences to iconic songs, and it addresses important social issues -- some of the content is iffy for teens. Characters drink and take drugs without any negative consequences, and there are a few nude scenes (though they're artfully staged and echo the deep love between main characters Lucy and Jude). Still, teens are likely to relate to the film's powerful messages about the importance of friendships and the need to question authority when lives are at stake.
What's the story?
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE taps into the Beatles' impressive, iconic catalog to tell the story of young love during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess) are worlds apart, literally, as the movie begins. She's a high school senior cloistered in an affluent American suburb; he's the boy from Liverpool gifted with a talent for the visual arts but toiling in a factory. Determined to make something, anything, of himself, he relocates to America; befriends Lucy's brother, Max (Joe Anderson); and promptly falls in love. The realization hits Jude in a bowling alley, and what follows is a gleeful rendition of "I've Just Seen a Face."
Is it any good?
Across the Universe is an audacious feat for which director Julie Taymor deserves much praise, but the movie falls short. While Taymor's fantastical concepts are admirable, musicals -- even fevered ones like Moulin Rouge -- tend to work better when the singing is organic and the setting naturalistic (as naturalistic as a musical can be, anyway), with characters launching into the perfect song to evoke emotions they need to express. From that perspective, Across the Universe succeeds. But when the film segues into nonsensical bits -- Eddie Izzard's "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," for instance -- it loses its way. Plus, some of the numbers are so stylized that they're best left to the Broadway stage.
An insubstantial script also hobbles the film; despite the grave subject matters it addresses -- war, art, love -- and the fact that characters dabble in sex and drugs, Across the Universe remains lightweight. It's painted in strokes that, albeit stunning, are too broad. By the time the credits roll, it feels less powerful than when it began, and that's a shame. It could have been a contender; as it stands, it's a memorable, wonderful confection with too much unrealized potential.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the Beatles' music defined a generation. Are the songs as relevant today as when they first became famous? What about their music makes it so universal? Families can also discuss the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and '70s. Are young people as involved with politics today as they were then? Or does that kind of passion only happen in movies anymore? Do you think that era tends to get idealized today? Why or why not?
- In theaters: September 21, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2008
- Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson
- Director: Julie Taymor
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Musical
- Run time: 133 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some drug content, nudity, sexuality, violence and language.
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