"Across the Universe," a love story told through the political and musical content of the 60s and The Beatles' expansive catalog, is something like "High School Musical" on Baz Luhrmann's LSD.
The film shifts from the innocent times of "Can't Buy Me Love" with similarities to "Grease," to the more psychedelic "Helter Skelter" as the main characters Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Jude (Jim Sturgess), are sucked into their individual mechanisms of coping with the war that creeps ever closer to their lives.
Lucy and Jude fall in love after Lucy's boyfriend is killed in Vietnam and Jude comes to the States from Liverpool. They shack up with Lucy's older brother, Max, who also has "a date with Uncle Sam," and his musician roommates, Sadie and JoJo, who might as well be Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. All turn to music to deal with the political conflict going on in their Greenwich Village home, with the exception of Lucy, who joins a radical student organization.
The plot is what keeps the movie from becoming separate music videos for each Beatles song, yet each song becomes its own visual masterpiece when combined with Julie Taymor's dynamic choreography. Known for her direction of the theatrical version of "The Lion King," Taymor invents context for each song with new perspectives on even the most gentle Lennon/McCartney product.
One scene of particularly poignant imagery occurs when Max and his fellow soldiers-to-be carry the Statue of Liberty across the bomb-ridden jungles of Vietnam to the tune of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."
The film is a Beatles trivia buff's fantasy with references in practically every line and scene, from the character's names to the poster of Pattie Boyd, the muse of "Layla" and George Harrison's "Something," in a dorm room. Even the seriously modified versions of the Beatles' hits don't seem to beg for criticism. Almost all of the songs performed by the characters were recorded live on set and add to the atmosphere of the film.
"Let It Be," intensely moving in its own right, is even more somber when an African-American church choir sings it over a young boy who died in a race riot. "Helter Skelter" turns into the anthem of police brutality, as Lucy and Jude are dragged away from a protest turned bloody.
Cameos invade the latter half of the flim; Joe Cocker appears as a pimp, a bum and a hippie singing "Come Together" in his husky voice with hooker backup chorus. To top it off, Bono appears as Dr. Robert as a poet-shaman with a bus that takes teenagers on the magical mystery tour of acid to the tune of "I Am The Walrus." Eddie Izzard becomes Mr. Kite, accompanied by the Blue Meanies. Selma Hayek floats around an infirmary in a revealing nurse outfit singing "Bang Bang Shoot Shoot" to "Happiness Is A Warm Gun."
The film throws its imagery at you just as fast as the bullets whizzing over Max's head in Vietnam, and the job to take it all in becomes a little more exhausting while catching references and analyzing lyrics. If you aren't a Beatles fan, you may feel like a protestor being dragged out of the madness. But this isn't frolicking through the hills with Julie Andrews, after all. This is the soundtrack to a revolution.