For its expansive title, Across the Universe is really just a humble trip if you don't count the endless drug use. That earns it a PG-13 rating along with nudity, sexuality, violence, and language. The film is simply a musical with a score of Beatles tracks, set in the '60s and populated with the Fab Four's song characters.
The plot begins with Liverpool dock worker and artist Jude (Jim Sturgess), who looks strikingly like a fresh-faced Paul McCartney. He travels to the United States to find his G.I. father and falls in love with a girl named Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). They get by with a little help from friends like Jojo and Prudence.
But it's the '60s, so the outside world soon interrupts young love, partying and meandering psychedelic hazes filled with fat Buddhas and blue men. Lucy's brother Max (Joe Anderson) must join the Army, whose brainwashed minions all look alike in menacing angle-jawed masks. As the war in Vietnam intensifies, so do the street protests back home. Unsurprisingly, the film venerates the era's hedonism and pacifism.
But Across the Universe is less about an active plot than it is about creating a series of impressions with sound and visual sequences. And some of them are dazzling in their symbolism, even if you disagree. Vietnam-era U.S. troops hoist the Statue of Liberty; Jude pins to a board neat rows of heart-shaped strawberries that bleed and turn into falling bombs and falling soldiers.
If you're a Beatles fan, the film's score is its ultimate insurance policy against flopping. In the end, it mostly feels like a glorified parlor game of "Let's talk in song titles." But even the filmmakers could not cram in every Beatles song. Only a fool on a hill would try that.