Across the Universe
Rewatched this one earlier this week, too. What a mess. I can't figure out why half of these things exist except to check a box. If it's not obvious names to signal that there will be certain songs at some point in the film or silly Bono seemingly buying into his ego, I can't help but roll my eyes at a lot of this film. The worst might be the Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix characters, who don't really need to be in the film and don't add to much except to give the audience a jolt of recognition. They don't feel like real characters and that damages the later scenes where their relationship is supposed to make me.feel something.
But also, there are two scenes that move me to tears and a few others that work really well for me. The first 40 minutes or so are solid all around (I love "Come Together" and basically anything to do with Maxwell going to war), but I never shook this sense that the film ignores a whole lot of social and political stuff while also trying very hard to be about them. The "Let it Be" scene is a perfect example. In it, a young black boy is killed during a riot, though we don't see how. The second half of the (absolutely beautiful version of the) song happens in a black church and sees the guy who will become the Jimi Hendrix stand-in mourn his brother while a choir sings the song. The emotions get to me because the music and visuals are so powerful, but the message is all wrong. "Let it Be" is a song about, well, just letting things happen in the belief that things will get better. But that's not at all what was going on with this population at this time, and certainly not in response to what seems to be state violence. Though I've teared up twice at this scene now, it feels ultimately empty because not enough attention is paid to the social context and how it fits in with the song outside of aesthetics. That begins to feel exploitative.
By the time the second scene that has made me year up twice, it is again let down, though this time for a different reason. I'm no purist really, I think you all k ow that by now, but I've got a problem with cutting so much out of "Hey Jude" because it loses some of the power of the song. The part that gets me is when Maxwell does the yelling thing that Paul does in the song about halfway though the na na na part. In the film, he vaults to the top of a fence and stretches his arms out to the advancing Jude, who's retuning to the US for the end of the film. It's a glorious moment and the perfect expression of that part of the song. But in the Beatles' version, that's the middle of the second half of the song. The expression of joy is the kicker, sure, but it is carried though the rest of that repetition. The song loosens up there. In the film, it just freaking ends. Moment of joy, pure love, and then a car ride. Bleh.
This movie could have been a masterpiece, or at least a messterpiece. But it misses some of what makes the songs so good and then misses a lot of the real feelings and context around the social stuff so the mo.ents that work feel like diamonds in the rough rather than highlights among goodness. It's too bad. I'll watch it again in another decade.