...I'm assuming there's still an audience somewhere in the universe that's wiling to slurp revisionist American nostalgia as fast as our studio-backed auteurs can export it. ...
I'm not interested in the opinion of anyone who can't spell "willing."
Though, of course, I'm little interested in the nay-sayers. I would love the film to have had way more edge and darkness - think TITUS. And Peter's right, lots of the music connections are exceedingly "on the nose." And there's not much in the tour of Late Sixties Big Events that's new (but then again, how could there be? The period has been so micro-examined and mythologized.). Still...
I had a blast at this movie! And will be going again as soon as it opens. This from a guy who's as middle-aged male and as die-hard a Beatles fan as you'll find.
There are lots of faults, and if you care to pick them, the movie is dismissable, falling far short of the uncompromising TITUS and falling a little less short of FRIDA. But I was onside from the first frame, and really wasn't interested in dwelling on the things that could diminish that. There are terrific dance sequences - the first one takes its movement vocabulary from football, it's a blast! The singing, with very few exceptions, is very good - I though so, and Carolyn Arends (a studio perfectionist about such things) confirmed that with pretty much her first comment on the film. I thought the performances were strong, though Evan Rachel was a tad wooden at times - wonderfully cast, though. The story (or the performers) worked to hard to make a few underdeveloped plot points play, but like I said... So what? It was a blast.
As for your qualm, Peter, that some of the songs didn't move the story forward, I must say that's only one of the things that songs do in conventional musicals. Lots of songs move plot forward, but lots of songs are occasions for the character simply to live in the experience of a particular moment in the unfolding story. Every musical has an "I want" song (or three), where the forward momentum completely stops while the character sings about what Stanislavsky called their "super-objective": "All I want is a room somewhere..." etc etc. Another truism (besides the "move the plot forward" one) is that when the emotion is too big for words, you take it into a song. Now, as a word guy, I've never bought that for a minute: Shakespeare didn't need Lear to break into song, the emotion was never too big for his words. But still, that's a principle in musical theatre: the action often stops dead for a love song, or a rumination on the state of things, or the big show-stopper, or... This musical is no exception.
Actually, I think that critics who deride the corniness of some of the musical theatre stuff here aren't catching the fact that Taymor's tongue is affectionately in her cheek. There's an aesthetic frisson between the cliches and the filmmaker's regard of those cliches. Part of Taymor's genius is to take the material and commit to it completely, transcend its weaknesses by glorying in them: "Titus Andronicus" is a hugely problematic script, with gaping holes in its credibility, and of course boggling excesses: Taymor never apologized for those things, played them full out, made them work. So the high school musical cliches of the early part of the film are being ironized as they are being celebrated. Critics who condescends are assuming Taymor is unaware of the corn: the joke is on them. (I'm reminded of Todd Haynes' strategy in FAR FROM HEAVEN: the dialogue is laughable, but 100% intentionally so. It's the tension between that artifice and the serious underlying intent that is the genius of that extraordinary film.)
Taymor could have given us a tougher film, and when I let myself, I wish she had. But mostly I don't let myself: no point diminishing a really fantastic experience by obsessing on how much fantasticker it could have been.
PS I'm not interested in the opinion of anyone who uses the word "fantasticker."