Lighthearted idea but confused in its execution. Be prepared to be disappointed if you are a fan of the Beatles.
Yesterday is one of those movies that feels as though it was thought up by a child in a daydream. “What would the world be like without the most famous band of the 20th century?”, this kid muses to themselves as they look through the window during a particular boring class. This movie is the fruition of that thought and much like a child’s story, with all its sweetness and innocence also comes the blurry trappings of unconscious storytelling with an incoherent tonal structure.
It feels as though Yesterday was built from the dictionary of other movies, asking a lot of questions but not following through with many answers.
Let’s explore some of these unanswered questions.
WHAT GENRE IS THIS?
Is this a romantic comedy or a revealing insight about the ownership and authenticity of art? The trailers would have you believe it’s the latter.
Why then does there need to be a love interest? This shoehorned love story seems a little melodramatic, bordering on the hardly believable. In one instance Ellie tells Jack: “I’ve been waiting 20 years for you to wake up and love me.” She may be British and possibly reserved, but why won’t she shoot her shot then? If she likes him so much, ask him out. It’s 2019, you don’t need to wait for anything anymore. Lily James plays Ellie as best she can, but her character is severely underdeveloped and is only in service to Jack’s character, being his forever cheerleader.
The authenticity of art idea could have dissected Jack’s fame and his guilt for taking credit of the songs. Instead, the film goes another direction and decides to pin him against modern day UK superstar musician, Ed Sheeran. While Mr. Sheeran certainly acted his part well, it was confusing to see why he was there. The only expositional line being: “You’re Mozart and I’m Salieri”. But would that REALLY have been the case?
THE BEATLES – WOULD THEY WORK NOWADAYS ?
The thing Yesterday missed about the Beatles is that they were a product of their time. They were the breath of fresh air English teens needed in post-war Britain. They changed the game for rock music and paved the way for UK artists to be taken seriously overseas.
Their songs are undeniably great, and that’s why they’ve stood the test of time. But the reason they shot to superstardom was also a result of the band’s aura and the era they were in. The later drug albums worked because it became more acceptable to do drugs in the late 1960s and the psychedelic phase was in full effect.
How would the music industry treat The Beatles like musicians nowadays? Now THAT would have been an interesting exploration. Sadly that avenue was not pursued much. If this movie were a little more curious about the inner-workings of the music industry, the thought process behind marketing the band like todays artist could have served up some moments of humor. A teaser for “Eleanor Rigby” on an Instagram story, perhaps?
WHY IS JACK SO POPULAR?
One thing that bothered me is that it doesn’t look like our protagonist is having fun performing the songs. A big reason the Beatles became so popular was their personalities. Offstage they were cheeky in interviews, their legendary “roles” were cemented in movies like “A Hard Days Night”, (Paul was romantic, John was a rebel, George was quiet and Ringo was always down to party) and onstage it just seemed they were having fun! Many subsequent musicians claimed the main reason they chose that career path was because of seeing the Fab Four making music fun. The oohs and aahs went a long way and without the fun of the whole band our lone protagonist seems a little bereft of enthusiasm.
Furthermore, I did not get to hear some of my favorite Beatles tracks like “All my Loving” “Here, There, Everywhere” “Blackbird” and the list goes on …. but they played “Back in the USSR” twice. Did they not have the rights to the whole catalog??
Why would “Back in the USSR” work in modern times? It cleverly lampoons 60s era Beach Boys surf songs with the California sound bassline and the back up harmonies. Mixing American sounds with Soviet Union references (see: “Georgia on my my my mind” refers to the Ray Charles song and Georgia the country). And all this in the midst of the cold war. It was very much a product of its time and don’t think people would relate so much to it now.
Also the Beatles evolved. To my understanding, Jack is releasing old Beatles song and new Beatles songs mixed together on a double album which is at most, what, 50 songs? What happened to other 150? Not worth saving? I don’t think mixing old and new material would work but I would’ve loved to see an explanation for him trying to justify “Revolution 9”, “Lovely Rita” or “Happiness is a Warm Gun” to studio execs, along with the other more experimental or controversial songs. Though it’s not a fan favorite, “Why don’t we do it in the road” is just as much the Beatles as “Here Comes the Sun” is. And The Beatles could get away with that because they were already iconic musicians when they did more experimental songs whereas Jack is barely breaking onto the international scene in this alternate world, which in itself is also quite confusing.
“Jack: This was my last gig. If it hasn’t by now, it’ll take a miracle.
Ellie: Miracles happen.”
RULES OF THE ALTERNATE REALITY
One thing that is nice is seeing what an old John Lennon would would like. It actually made me emotional. Thinking of all the life experiences he would’ve had if had hadn’t been tragically murdered and also all the music we would have enjoyed.
However, the old John Lennon did not seem to be quite musical. It seems that in this other world the Beatles members still lived, just didn’t make music. We don’t see why they didn’t get together. Did they try and fail? Did Johnny and the Moondogs or the Silver Beatles never happen? It’s hard to believe some of the most accomplished pop songwriters of the 20th century wouldn’t have had an aching to create music in this alternate universe.
For music nerds: would someone else have introduced stuff Beatles introduced to pop music? Would bands borrow from the parallel minor key, a Beatles staple very clearly heard in songs like “I’ll Be back” or tried unusual time signatures like the 7/8 of “All you need is Love”? Or going to 3/8 in “Here Comes the Sun”?
Does Charles Manson not commit murder because he never heard “Helter Skelter” and think of it as a call to action and a sign of the end of days?
We find out Harry Potter and Coca-Cola aren’t in this world either. Is Jack going to reproduce JK Rowling’s opus and remember all seven Harry Potter books as best he can? Will he somehow re-invent the secret Coke recipe for the good of the world or will he stick to what he knows? Is this his life mission now? Give the world what they lost?
Yesterday does not answer any of the questions above and there are no real-life consequences for him playing Beatles songs: he’s never taken to task for it. At one point, Jack thinks he will be arrested before the big beach concert, but instead is greeted by the only other people who remember the Beatles. The only reason he decides to tell the world of his fraudulent act is not out of artistic merit but instead in an attempt to “get the girl”. We do not see his inner qualms, which, arguably is not very cinematic.
Apart from all these unanswered questions, some characters shine through. Rocky, the bumbling roadie, provides much needed comic relief to Jack’s confusing seriousness. And Kate McKinnon does a good performance as she delivers lines with sly confidence and hyper-overexplaination, such as “We’ll take most of your money”, which her character says as she asks to sign on Jack as a new artist. Americans never seem to be too bright in Richard Curtis’ films.
One thing is for sure, though, I really wouldn’t want to live in a world without the Beatles and this movie confirms that.
Entertaining premise but don’t go in wanting to feel more connected to the Beatles once the movie is over. – ⭐⭐