The film's story, in its skimpiest form, screams cheesy: a Liverpudlian named Jude leaves England during the sixties for America in search of his GI father who retreated back to the States before Jude was ever born. Jude's paternity search leads to encounters with other characters who bear Beatles-inspired names. There's a Maxwell, a Prudence, a Sadie, a Lucy, and a doctor named Robert among others. And because the time period is 1960s America, the narrative inevitably centers around Vietnam, drug usage, and the Counterculture in general.
However, unlike many movies that take place during those 'Boom years, Across the Universe takes a very underhanded approach at dealing with the 60s' staple issues of war and drugs. While the drugs are very much available, and the characters experience their fair share of acid trips (manifested as psychedelic visuals to the viewer), the marijuana and LSD are presented to the audience in a much more subversive way. The characters don't talk about it, and they don't glamorize it. They just do it.
In similar fashion, the story does not immortalize the war protester like so many other films do. Instead, it seems to depict the student protesters of that era as children of privilege, indulging in protest perhaps only for the sake of rebellion against the establishment, rather than for the stated purpose of bringing American troops home. While Across the Universe certainly does not endorse the Vietnam conflict, it brings a grounded, post-WWII British perspective to the narrative through the lens of protagonist Jude.
Finally, the film does a pretty good job of sticking to its goal of focusing on the Beatles' robust catalog. From the sugary Mersey sounds of their early albums, to their heavier-handed material released toward the end of their legendary run, a healthy cross-section of the band's repertoire is represented. In the beginning, songs like 'It Won't Be Long' and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' are used to compliment the story during times of teenage lust and longing. As the story unfolds, heartfelt performances of songs like 'Something' by the characters are presented to emit more sophisticated feelings of reluctant love and lucidity. This transition mirrors not just the intellectual and emotional growth of the film's characters, but also that of the band's real life songwriting evolution as well.
In all, Across the Universe did a good job of surpassing my expectations. Although a little long in parts, the movie illustrated the universality of the Beatles' songs, helping to explain why people are still obsessed with them to this very day.
Here is the Beatles version of a song contained in the film. It's 'If I Fell:'
The Beatles - 'If I Fell'