The bitter breakup. The unexpected encounter. The legend lives on…
The year is 1976. Paul McCartney is in New York City to promote his new band, his new album (complete with chart topping hit single), and his "Wings Over America" tour. One day, while traveling from a television interview, he decides to stop by the Dakota and visit John Lennon. The two have not spoken since the legally acrimonious and personally devastating breakup of their band, The Beatles, six years before. At first, John is apprehensive about visiting with his old band mate. Left alone while his wife, Yoko, and his child, Sean, attend to some business in Los Angeles, he has been in a kind of self-imposed exile from the music business. At the opposite end is Paul, who has worked diligently and persistently to keep his name before the public. The barrier between the two is immense, with so many public and private feuds left unresolved. But as they spend time together, reminiscing, arguing, and understanding, they soon discover a very simple truth. No matter how many years have gone by or harsh public remarks have been made, they are still the same two boys from Liverpool who changed the world forever.
For most people, The Beatles represent the zenith of pop achievement, not just musically significant, but a cultural milestone as well. They set the tone, the tempo, and the benchmark for a decade of unprecedented personal expression and provide the watershed for all bands that have come since. When they stopped touring in the mid-'60s, fans were not so much outraged as curious, wondering if they'd continue to succeed. Interestingly, their experimental studio craftsmanship only expanded their legend. But when, in 1970, the horrendous news hit that the band was breaking up, one immediate question came to everyone's mind: Would they ever get back together again and play? Two of Us (the title taken from a track on the Beatles last album release, "Let it Be") attempts to address, in hypothetical terms, what a tentative rekindling of Lennon and McCartney's relationship might look and sound like. Long a part of rock and roll urban legend, a rumored mid "Me" Decade powwow between the once mighty, but now angry ex-songwriting partners has long fascinated the fan and fanatic alike. Two of Us makes an effort at a "fictional dramatization" or "imaginary realization" of said supposed reunion. But instead of being an instance of two mega-worlds colliding, it comes across as lifeless and particularly dull. Turns out that one of the main reasons The Beatles couldn't stay together was that, well, they matured, growing out of the frat house environment of sudden superstardom and into the work and world weary pace of adult professionalism. That, and they apparently despised each other's taste in women.
Part of the problem with Two of Us is this socio-psychobabble exploration of Lennon and McCartney's inner demons. So John hated his dad for abandoning him and still feels the pain of a vacant, half present mother. Okay…Got it. This may have been a revelation in 1976, but in 2003 it seems as drab as a Ringo solo album. And Paul's major fault, the thing that kept him running from the past and driven for immediate personal recognition? The resentment of having to handle the band's business while the Lennon-Onos explored the avant-garde and the remaining Beatles faded away, disgruntled. This is not compelling drama so much as it is a tepid, tedious tale of a talented twosome throwing a temper tantrum. More significant an issue, however, are the performances by Jared Harris as Lennon and Aidan Quinn as Paul McCartney. There is no fire in Harris' portrayal. Lennon's wit comes across only as mean-spirited and his overall demeanor is like that of a spoiled, insolent child. Never once do you believe that this is the same man who created some of the most timeless, lyrically expressive pop rock and roll of all time. Quinn is even more disturbing. He has McCartney's facial tics down to a mannered science, but his voice sounds like bad Liverpool accents day at Actor's Equity. Both performers can barely create the level of Mad Magazine parody with their take on the two influential members of the Fab Four. Without a hint of believability, we are forced to concentrate on the thoughts they express. And since it all sounds like a very special episode of Dr. Phil where rock stars share their innermost personal pain, it turns preachy, didactic, and melodramatic. Two of Us wants to be a speculative insight into the minds that produced masterpieces. But it's really a Lifetime Movie of the Week that drops names.
One of the greatest crimes, both of this movie and this DVD is the total lack of anything fancy. On the packaging side, Paramount releases this VH-1 Original in a meager-marrowed offering that provides only one option—to play the film full screen. The image is nice, with a good transfer that is free from defects. And the Dolby Digital Stereo is passable, that is, when there is anything worth hearing. This is a very talky film, with very little use for the channels except when music is played. But be warned, Beatles fans—you will not hear a single classic mop top favorite on this soundtrack. Some hack reggae band jamming in Central Park—yes. But "She Loves You" or "Yesterday"? Forget it. The obvious reason is financial. Michael Jackson's grip on the moneymaking Northern Song catalog is tighter than on the hand of a pre-teenage boy visiting Neverland. Honestly, a better reason is that the presence of such special music would further focus attention on how weak this movie is. One can only imagine what a post breakup meeting between John Lennon and Paul McCartney would be like. The joy. The pain. The partying. It may have been hell. It could have been heaven. It's a safe bet that anything anyone makes up in their own mind's eye would be more entertaining and endearing that this ponderous product of poor execution. Two of Us is one hypothetical history lesson that should never have been reenacted.
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