Jukebox musicals are a fun and interesting beast. Across The Universe (2007) is no exception. For those who do not know, a jukebox musical is a style if musical where all the songs are previously released songs, rather than ones specifically written for the musical it’s self. Across The Universe is a jukebox musical exclusively featuring the songs of The Beatles, arguably one of the greatest bands of all time.
What makes jukebox musicals so interesting, specifically ones solely using the music of a single group, is the song choices. You get to see songs in a new context, find new favorite songs, and learn of songs that are pretty bad.
It’s really fun to hear a song you know and love in a new context. This movie has a beautiful cover “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that completely changes the meaning by simply slowing it down. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” goes from a song about how horny The Beatles were to a heart breaking song about unrequited love.
This is what song covers should always be, showing respect to the original while allowing the new artist to make the song their own. It works so well here.
Another song that gets a new context is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, another song about how horny The Beatles were, this time by John about Yoko Ono. But, in the context of the movie, it is song by Uncle Sam and a chorus of army recruiters as a character gets drafted into the Vietnam War. Very, VERY, different contexts. It stops being about love and becomes about how much the U.S. needed young men to fight a horrible war. I just love how much the meaning of the song can be changed simply by who is singing. It’s fascinating.
But, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is a famous Beatles song. We’ve all heard it before, of course the movie would include it. “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” also show up in the movie. The movie also uses “Something” which is, in my opinion, the best Beatles song. However, the true beauty of a jukebox musical, is hearing those deep cuts. Those songs that make you say “oh yeah, I forgot about this one” or “I’ve never heard this one before, but I love it!” Before this movie, I had never heard “Hold Me Tight” or “It Won’t Be Long” but both of those songs are pretty darn fun. They aren’t ground breaking songs, but they deserve a spot on a Spotify playlist or two.
Unfortunately, not all of these deep cuts are gems. I had never heard “I Am The Walrus” or “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and I’d be perfectly happy if I never heard them again. No one ever lists them as their favorite Beatles songs, and for good reason. So who ever decided it’d be a good idea to stop the plot of the movie dead in it’s tracks to have a weird fever dream of Bono singing “I Am The Walrus” immediately followed by an even weirder fever dream of Eddie Izzard singing “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” will be hearing from my lawyer shortly.
Really, for better or worse, this movie checked all the boxes you expect from a jukebox musical fun new versions of classic songs, discovery of lesser known songs, and the exposure of some truly terrible songs. I can’t recommend the movie enough.