Time: 133 mins.
SYNOPSIS: Like young adults all across America during the 1960's, Jude, Lucy, Max, Sadie, Prudence, and JoJo are in turmoil over Vietnam; questioning their individual roles in the war effort and struggling to find a way to hold true to their beliefs while making a difference in the world. While love proves a powerful uniting force, its limitations become clear as relationships are strained and broken over individual perceptions of responsibility to cause and country.
BOTTOM LINE: Taymor's theatrical background is used to full effect in this visually stunning tale of young love amidst the turmoil of the psychedelic 60s. While I found her use of the Beatles songs – rearranged and sung by the cast – to be perfect accompaniment to her artistic style and the story she's trying to tell, I'm sure there are many fans of the Fab Four who are equally horrified and see this film as a total travesty. Since I'm not a huge fan – I'm too young to have experienced Beatlemania firsthand – I didn't mind her taking poetic license. In fact, I thought the songs brought great depth and energy to the piece, bringing the period alive in a vibrant, uncoventional way. What's lacking is a focused plot, which I suppose isn't really the point of this experience. Taymor's melding together the ideas and music of the time to showcase the emotional turmoil more than the politics or actual history. It's a rollercoaster ride that you will either dig or despise.
Personally, I'm a sucker for musicals and who can resist the genius of the Beatles. Since I was only familiar with about half the songs, it was easier for me to forget about the band and connect with the characters. Unfortunately, since there's not a lot of straight dialogue, you really don't get to know much about any of the characters. They sort of represent types more than real people, so on that level it's hard to care what happens to them. However, the situations they find themselves in are alternately fraught with angst and elation, so it captures your attention on an emotional level. When one of them gets drafted and sent to Vietnam – in one of the film's most interesting, oddly amusing and ultimately terrifying sequences set to a mash-up of "I Want You" and "She's So Heavy" – your heart does break more than a little knowing what fate awaits him.
Wood and Strugess have pretty good chemisty, making you believe in their love and rooting for them to have a happy ending. Dana Fuchs and Martin Luther are also pretty compelling as anti-war musicians mirroring the look and styles of Joplin and Hendrix, embuing the Beatles songs with the vibes of those singers. The appearance of Bono was a bit of a shock to me, but he acquits himself well as Dr. Robert, a love guru who attempts to help our group of misfits ignore the trouble around them with copious amounts of drugs and sex. Some sequences and songs work better than others, but no one can fault Taymor's attempt to bring them to full, flower-power life. The art direction and cinematography, without a doubt, contain some of the most vibrant, weird and expressive visuals to ever hit the bigscreen. A film that's more like one long music video than a full-bodied feature, but I don't think the MTV generation will mind. Especially the ones less familiar with the original Beatles work. It captures the complex issues and makes them emotionally accessible, if not exactly intellectually stimulating. Worth a look.