Hey guys, Stephen here and I’ve just got back from seeing the new Danny Boyle film, Yesterday, and thought I’d put down my spoiler filled thoughts into a video since it’s you know, music related. So, stick around if you want to hear a Beatles inspired film review from a Scouse perspective.
If you’ve somehow managed to miss the barrage of trailers, posters on buses, interviews with the cast and endless radio spots then let me quickly lay down the plot.
The film centers on an aspiring musician called Jack who’s just about to give up on his musical career until something really magical happens. After electricity goes off around the world for about 12 seconds, he’s involved in a car crash and after he recovers, seems to be the only one in the world who remembers the Beatles. Now with that in mind, Jack sets out for stardom, utilizing that famous catalogue of songs as his own.
Being somewhat of a Beatles fan myself I was looking forward to this film. I was really intrigued by the way it’d use the songs and how the world would be affected without the band. I remember a TV show year’s back called Goodnight Sweetheart which played with this a little where the main character travelled back in time to the 40s in London, and sometimes taking on Beatles songs as his own. It was a really fun and interesting premise. I also thought about other time travel films such as Back to the Future 2 when Marty travels back to his own time to discover lots of things had changed and only he remembers how it was before.
It was safe to say I was excited for this film.
The first 20 minutes of setup I’ve just described for the plot are fine. I was totally on board for where it was going, fully invested and liked all of the characters. Although a bit miserable, maybe even entitled, Jack was a musician I could relate to. Grinding away, playing the small clubs, bars and tents, because that’s what we all do. We stick at it. He even had Jurassic Park and Radiohead posters in his room. That’s me!
I could see some blossoming romance on the way with his at that point manager Ellie, so it was fair or predicable to say, there was bound to be a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ moment for Jack who would perhaps upon leaning too heavily on the Beatles catalog would sort out his own self-esteem, find his own voice, get the girl and make good on his own musical journey – just with a little help from, well, you know.
This wasn’t to be.
The story doesn’t really go anywhere after the set up. It just shuffles along aimlessly. It’s really just Beatles song after Beatles song and pretty much ends. Jack becomes somewhat of a star, yes, but he doesn’t seem to learn anything along the way. He’s still miserable, still entitled. We’re treated to a flashback later which shows how Ellie convinced him to focus on his music instead of going back to teaching as she knows how important it is to him. In the end, it looks as though he goes back to teaching anyway, although playing music to a full assembly of kids. This is the end of the film; we’re supposed to be happy with this choice but it just feels contradictory and the romantic element just undeserved really.
Supporting characters are treated like chess pieces, only placed where they need to be when the script needs some convenient resolution. If you’ve ever seen other penned Richard Curtis films such as Notting Hill or Love Actually, you’ll be familiar with the two-dimensional friend everyone thinks is really stupid but redeems himself later. He’s also in this and you can see his arc coming a mile off. As for other characters, the music agent may as well be called ‘money’ and other friends just ‘support’ or ‘love interest fix’ as they just serve to advance the plot.
That also includes John Lennon. Yes, that’s right, for a brief moment John Lennon is portrayed in this film. He’s not the John Lennon of the Beatles as that didn’t happen in this universe. He survived to live by a little cottage by the sea and now looks like Robert Carylse with a dodgy fake nose. He looked a bit like Worzel Gummidge with round glasses on (which made no sense, why would he have those glasses). A woman gasped in front of me which I thought, OK maybe it’s just might be me not feeling the moment, but then I realised she was just yawning. Yeah me too.
One of the issues I had about the overall idea is how the music would be treated. How would Jack remember all of the Beatles songs? The film actually explores this and it is quite funny as he gets lyrics wrong or is reminded about other songs in bizarre situations. I was left a little short changed though.
What about the actual music? Every drum fill, chord change and guitar riff seemed to be accounted for without any real challenge. Realistically though, I guess a film already at a running time of just under 2 hours has to lose some of its weight even though… Boy, you gotta carry that…
Also. I love the Beatles but no way in hell the likes of “She Loves You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would be global hits nowadays. They worked back then because that sort of music and songwriting was a novelty and absolutely a sign of the times. We listen with that sort of nostalgic context, I do anyway.
One more musical point. There’s a lot of Ed Sheeran in this film. Now whichever column you fall in be it the love or hate side, this film does seem to put the message across that Ed is the modern counterpart to the Beatles which is probably true in a mainstream way but it ultimately just added to my extreme sadness.
THE MAIN PROBLEM
The main problem I have with the film is that it doesn’t really attempt to explore its own interesting set up question. Most blogs and discussions about this film, before it was released, have all asked the question – “what would the world be like without the Beatles?” It seems in the world in this film, that’s not a question really worth answering and only initially serves as slight frustration for Jack as nobody gets his Beatles references.
There’s seemingly no real knock-on effect that the Beatles had on culture apart from maybe Oasis not existing? There are moments in the film where Jack discovers other things have vanished from existence such as cigarettes and Coca-cola which I’m pretty sure pre-dated the Beatles, so what’s that all about?
This is never explored or questioned but I was really intrigued with these discoveries and was looking forward to some kind of resolution but nothing came. Especially after we’re actually introduced to other people who remembered the Beatles, but that went nowhere too. One of them had a REALLY bad Liverpool accent which grated at me. Whyyyyy
I was left a bit confused over the whole thing really. The interesting parts weren’t explored, they were ignored in favour of a love story that just didn’t feel deserved.
Now I know this isn’t really the film I wanted as there was no “What would the world be like without the Beatles?” answer. It’s apparently the ‘feel good film of the summer’ going by the posters on the buses so I should have known what I was getting myself in for. It’s nor for me.
Overall, what I was left with was a bit of clunky mess. I mean the film’s credits have an actual Beatles song over them but it’s Hey Jude, not Yesterday. That’s hilarious.
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