When Liverpool ship builder Jude (Sturgess) travels to America, he's embroiled in the New York boho scene and rise of the peace movement, and falls in love with a girl called Lucy (Wood). As told through the medium of The Beatles greatest hits.
Here’s the bad news: Julie Taymor’s madly ambitious concept is
a musical built out of Beatles songs, which charts both the turbulent history of the ‘60s and the band’s place within in. Not that the band figure in the movie at all, just their songs.
Taymor does this with bags of visual flamboyance but very little restraint, utilising the scripting talents of the duo behind TV’s Porridge, a gang of unknown actors (excepting Marilyn Manson’s current squeeze Evan Rachel Wood) and an appearance from U2’s frontman in a very silly moustache singing I Am The Walrus.
To depict all the tumbling psychedelic parties and political upheavals, Taymor goes in for trippy, surreal jamborees splurged in primary colours, as if Willy Wonka had taken over. She also fully reserves the right to play it gentle and romantic, letting the leads softly croon Let It Be or Blackbird right there on the streets of the real world.
It’s haphazard, at times demented, entirely overreaching, and has experienced a tumultuous conflict over the final cut. Nothing about this film should work.
Here’s the good news: it’s wonderful.
A testament to both the enduring emotional power of the Fab Four’s music, vividly reworked by Elliot Goldenthal, T-Bone Burnett and Teese Gohl, and Taymor’s unbridled artistic brio in taking such a dizzyingly daft idea and enriching it with such soul it’ll reconfirm your faith that film can provide comfort and solace.
Taymor’s triumph, whatever the turmoil in the edit suite, is how sublimely she aligns the sensibility of the individual songs to their place in the narrative. As While My Guitar Gently Weeps beautifully describes a note of heartbreak; Dear Prudence playfully underscores a lesbian coming out (naturally named Prudence), while the slow, aching build into the inevitable Hey Jude joyously tugs our hero from despondency.
The young cast of near-unknowns are up to the challenge, each of them ‘suggesting’ rock ‘n’ roll heroes and heroines of the era. Lead Jim Sturgess is a sort-of John Lennon; vibrant Dana Fuchs a quasi-Janice Joplin; Martin Luther a near Jimi Hendrix; while skinny, intense Joe Anderson even echoes Kurt Cobain in a kind of meta-rock crossover.
All the while it remains an old-fashioned story where boy gets girl, with the silly-perfect message that all you need is love.
A load of kids singing Beatles tunes? You better believe it.