“Yesterday,” the film: slight but fun

Yesterday” is wildly implausible, to a degree that makes “Back To The Future” look like a serious exploration of the theory of relativity. It’s a sheer waste of time to ask yourself any of the innumerable questions raised by the macguffin that is the film’s premise. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, it’s a pretty fun romp. That’s my take, anyway: opinions are certainly divided.

Great credit must be given to the cast. Himish Patel’s intense likability makes scenes work that really shouldn’t. Kate McKinnon steals every frame she’s in, as an evil music executive. And Ed Sheeran is believably himself, which is all this film requires. The supporting players range from good to excellent. The weakness is the script.

The rooftop concert in “Yesterday” — one of the film’s many nods to Beatles-related events.

And by “script” I don’t mean the aforementioned motivating plot device (supernaturally powerful solar flares that manage to wipe out all record of the Beatles — including physical objects like recordings and books). No, I mean the love story and the way Jack Malik (Patel) ends up dealing with the results of his having passed off the Beatles’ song catalog as his own. Lily James works hard as Jack’s lovelorn manager Ellie, but there’s not much believable chemistry between them, and the resolution of their story feels shoehorned into the rom-com framework. Pretty much all Jack’s other relationships — with his mentor Sheeran, with McKinnon’s manipulative manager, with his friend and roadie Rocky — are more compelling than his erstwhile romance with Ellie.

The film is at its best when chronicling Jack’s idea of passing the Beatles’ songs off as his own and the early stages of his discomfort with that decision. Patel expertly portrays Jack’s initial giddiness and growing disquiet; I found it impossible not to root for a happy ending for him. And he gets it. I just wish the way that he gets it didn’t feel so contrived.

In musical terms, “Yesterday” posits that the Beatles’ song catalog is powerful enough to launch a superstar today, but it studiously avoids exploring the band’s cultural impact. Apparently the world would look just like it does today, except that Oasis would never have existed and John Lennon wouldn’t have been murdered.

But in the end, it’s pretty much impossible to argue that “Yesterday” is taking anything seriously. It’s simply an enjoyable summer diversion with plenty of Easter eggs for Beatles fans to find.

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  1. Avatar Shelly Trent wrote:

    I enjoyed the movie, but had misgivings about a few things. Maybe I’m picky, but if all of Jack’s albums disappeared, how did those other fans have a yellow submarine? Maybe it wasn’t licensed memorabilia, but just a yellow sub toy, unrelated to the Beatles. I didn’t quite get the John Lennon part. He didn’t seem all that surprised to see a stranger at his door and talked with Jack like a friend. Not sure if anyone noticed that the boat they were sitting on was named Imagine. I wish they would have made him sound more like John — no Liverpudlian accent. The Scottish actor who plays John sounds Scottish, not British. John would have been funnier.

    I did think it was cheeky that in Jack’s dream, when he was on James Corden’s show, the two men behind the curtain had “Abbey Road” feet (Paul barefoot, and Ringo in black shoes). As you say, there are many Easter eggs in the movie, even in Jack’s choice of clothing.

    Overall, I did like the film.

  2. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    One major error I found in the film:

    John would have had cats, not a dog.

  3. Avatar Justin McCann wrote:

    The Oasis gag was definitely the funniest moment for me, although I was the only one in the cinema laughing.

    Nothing on cultural impact for sure, and also very little on the musical side of things. The big question for me is whether people would even like the Beatles’ music if it came out today – so much of it sounds of its time, and I can think of fifty artists that have had a more direct influence on current chart music. If some of the songs were heavily rearranged and sung differently I could see them doing well, and it would’ve been nice to see the film exploring that process more (‘Hey, what if you gave “In My Life” a reggaeton beat and a rap break?’).

    It’d be fascinating to see a darker, more cynical film about how the Beatles wouldn’t be allowed happen today – “Yesterday” hints at it with the execs’ mauling of the albums’ sequencing, titling and cover art, but in reality they’d be interfering with every last note and lyric as well. The film skates round this issue by positioning Patel’s unique independence as his selling point, but that just doesn’t ring true for me. More darkness, I say.

  4. Nancy, I liked this so much I had too many thoughts for a comment. Posting now!

  5. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    In musical terms, “Yesterday” posits that the Beatles’ song catalog is powerful enough to launch a superstar today, but it studiously avoids exploring the band’s cultural impact. Apparently the world would look just like it does today, except that Oasis would never have existed and John Lennon wouldn’t have been murdered.

    That’s an interesting point and made me think of a possible angle the screenwriter could have pursued: Jack wakes up in a world without the Beatles… and it looks like 1962! (attitudes, hair, fashions) but with modern tech like cell phones and laptops. It could have been a reverse Wizard of Oz: The world before his accident is technicolor, but when he awakens in No-Beatle reality everything is B&W. We put a man on the moon, but white men wear crewcuts and white women dress conservatively. Rock ‘n Roll is like Calypso, a musical trend that flourished for a few years in the ’50s and early ’60s and then faded. In this universe, only the black community (who faithfully absorbed Motown, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder) has progressed culturally.

    That would have put the film more into Twilight Zone territory (something Jordan Peele could have created) rather than Romantic Comedy. And it might have been a more compelling film, exploring the Beatles cultural impact rather than the All You Need Is Love/She Loves You boy loses girl – boy wins girl back You Don’t Know What You Got Until You Lose It theme.

    But I enjoyed it for what it was. Because the premise resonated with me personally. It took me years to get over feeling like a failure for not producing a bestselling novel, or writing a hit song. I wrote novels, but my agent couldn’t place them. I got shorter fiction/nonfiction published in a few places and received some recognition, but it never led to anything bigger. I wrote songs, even got one played on a local college station, but that was it. No Brian Epstein ever came knocking on my door. “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground” as the song goes. It took me a long time to step back and appreciate what I DO have: An incredible wife who loves me and is my biggest fan (and I’m her biggest fan) and adult offspring who make me proud every day. A home with a garden full of flowers and vegetables. A cat who listens and purrs when I strum my ukulele and sing to her. (She gave me such a look of love once, and actually gave me a head bump while I softly crooned “Peggy Sue Got Married”) These things are more important than praise from Philip Norman or a stranger asking for my autograph.

    So when Jack (after talking to Old Lennon) gets his priorities straight, I was happy for him. And it reminded me again to be happy with myself.

    • @Sam, I love this comment because
      1) …that’s exactly the movie I hoped Yesterday would be; sort of like Pleasantville or something. Where rock was, exactly as you say, like calypso or something, but tech continued, and we still lived in the moral and philosophical world before the Sixties. Because, as I wrote, I think this vision is very attractive to conservatives worldwide. But it’s never honestly explored. The fantasy is never exploded, the downsides of it are never really addressed. The whole abortion debate in the US, for example, is an exercise in this kind of right-wing wish-fulfillment: by extinguishing safe, legal, medical abortions, the idea is that women (and men) will simply revert to a fundamentally less sexual mode of behavior that is imagined to have existed pre-1962. But of course that’s not what 1962 was really like, people were just as sexual then as now. And also there were reasons that the Sixties happened. The Sixties — and of course The Beatles — fulfilled some very deep human desires in people, that’s why they happened.
      2) I had the same ultimate reaction that you did to the movie, and I found the scene with John Lennon particularly touching because, if he had lived, I think he would’ve concluded the same thing.

  6. Avatar Marlo wrote:

    Not sure where to post this, so I’ll put it here.
    Has anyone had a chance to read the new Beatles book by Ken McNab yet? It’s called “ And in the End: The Last Days of The Beatles”.
    I heard about it a few months ago, and the Things We Said Today Podcast episode 298 had an interview with the author about 5 weeks back that I havnt had a chance to have a listen to yet.

  7. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Okay, I found this interesting:


    Yesterday Movie’s Original Script Was A More Depressing Take On Beatles Fame

    Barth told Uproxx that his original script was a much more depressing take on fame. Barth called the story very personal, lamenting on a thought he had while lying in bed one night: “If Star Wars hadn’t been made and I just came up with the idea for Star Wars, I bet I wouldn’t be able to sell it.” This musing lead to the idea of a musician not being able to sell The Beatles’ legendary discography. Unlike Yesterday, Cover Version’s protagonist doesn’t become an international sensation or achieve fulfillment. Instead, he only gets slightly better gigs than he did before, making Cover Version a contemplation on the relationship between artistic integrity, disappointment, and what it means to be a “successful” artist. Barth chalks this thematic difference between his script and Yesterday up to perspective:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And I think that the reason that Richard turned him into the most successful songwriter of all time is because that’s how Richard’s life is going. He met Rowan Atkinson at Oxford, he came out of Oxford and immediately rode Rowan Atkinson to huge success in his early twenties, he’s never been knocked out, as far as I know. Why wouldn’t this guy become the most successful songwriter in the world?

  8. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:


    How One ‘Yesterday’ Screenwriter’s Dream Became Something Of A Nightmare

    “For years, Jack Barth had managed to eke out a living as an itinerant comedy writer. Over the course of his career, the former editor of Stanford’s humor magazine had co-authored a series of offbeat travel books, wrote freelance film and travel pieces for major magazines, and produced a television show in the UK. He even wrote an episode of The Simpsons — “A Fish Called Selma,” which Barth said he got greenlit after only “128 failed attempts.” (Barth clarifies that the bit about Planet of the Apes musical was, sadly, not his idea).”

  9. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    Hologram Sam wrote: “One major error I found in the film: John would have had cats, not a dog.”

    Not to mention a sense of humor. But when the script writer is lacking in that department, it’s bound to go missing.

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