Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 2nd 2019
The Beatles meet the rom-com world
It is no secret that I am a fan of the Beatles. Their music, through my father, formed a great deal of the soundtrack of my earliest memories. And so it was with this in mind that I bought a new release DVD (Blu-ray) of a film based on the music of this most important of bands.
The film is called Yesterday (2019).
Directed by Danny Boyle
Screenplay by Richard Curtis (Story by Jack Barth & Richard Curtis) Starring: Himesh Patel & Lily James
Before I hit the film, apparently Danny Boyle (whose film Trainspotting is a personal favourite) was slated to direct the 25th James Bond film, but something happened, he dropped out, and this is what he did instead – a Richard Curtis (Four Weddings And A Funeral) rom-com. Wow, that makes it seem so lame. But it's not. For this has one incredible, different concept supporting it:
What happens if a struggling musician wakes up after some sort of a mishap, only to find that he is in a world exactly like his own, but one where The Beatles never existed? And yet, because he has been a street performer, he knows much of their work? That is the story of Yesterday.
Jack (Patel) is a musician who works at a store, and whose childhood friend Ellie (James) is his manager, roadie, driver, everything. He works the streets, coffee houses, near-empty tents at the Latitude Festival, etc. Then, one night, during a brief world-wide blackout, Jack is hit by a bus.
When he comes to, he finds himself in a world that looks the same as the one he had been in, but one where The Beatles simply had never happened. This comes home to him when he is gifted a new guitar and so he plays the classic 'Yesterday'. The acting here is just incredible – they respond as though they have never heard the song before. The looks on the faces of Jack's friends is incredible.
He hits Google – no Beatles. He checks his record collection – no Beatles. But also, no Oasis (the band, not the desert water hole). Oh, and for what it's worth, no Coke and no cigarettes and no Harry Potter. And that is when he decides that he can play the songs of the Beatles and, in this world, claim them as his own. Things snowball pretty quickly from there. He ends up opening for Ed Sheeran, played by Ed Sheeran (way to stretch those acting legs!). Sheeran comes across, it must be said, as someone willing to take the mickey out of himself ("Hey, Dude," notwithstanding).
And then he gets hit by the music industry through a woman who forces her way into being his agent ("Is this the best you can look?"), becomes a worldwide smash, and then it becomes a romantic comedy as Jack returns to England (Liverpool) to help him remember the lyrics to the songs he can't quite remember, he meets up with Ellie, feelings are exchanged, and then Ellie lets Jack go to Los Angeles alone. In quick succession there's an album, he discovers he's not alone, John Lennon appears (!), there's self-sabotage and… It's got a Richard Curtis ending. What more can I say? Too many spoilers as is.
This film is made by the performances of the two leads. Everyone thinks Jack is suffering from some sort of imposter syndrome, but Jack knows he's been plagiarising, even if it's from people who don't exist in this world. He is torn between fame and fortune and artistic credibility (even if only in his own mind).
Apparently, Patel did all the singing, played his own guitar and piano in the film. He does a pretty good go of it, truth be told.
Look, this is a sweet film. It's pleasant, has an awesome premise and does not belabour too much of its story (until the final act), has some great music (of course – it's The Beatles!), and, like I said, has some very cool acting. And this is a film where race does not matter. There is an issue however…
The film's great conceit is that the music of this world would be the same today, just lacking The Beatles. That is impossible. Would Ed Sheeran be doing what he was doing without The Beatles in the background of musical memory? No way. Without The Beatles, would Dylan have gone electric? Would experimental music have become mainstream? David Crosby said The Byrds would never have been formed but for The Beatles, so folk-rock and later country-rock might well have never come about. Would The Beach Boys have gone away from surf music to 'Good Vibrations' and the Pet Sounds album? What would the musical world have been like? Blues-based rock leading into heavy metal? Sure, but would it have been the same? Ozzy Osbourne admits The Beatles were an influence. The Beatles were more than just four guys writing and singing great music. They were the catalyst for a musical revolution. I mean, come on – The Beatles did some of the first non-performance music videos. Even after they broke up, they produced and wrote songs that still resonate today. They weren't "just another band" – they created a soundscape that defined and influenced generations to come, and are still holding sway over the new musicians of today.
I thought there would be such an amazing film here, buried beneath the romance, of a world where the pop culture would probably still be anodyne, where great revolutions might not have happened, where the 1950s might never have ended. But I don't think it would work. Because it was not just the songs. It was the way the four Beatles performed them, their personalities, the time in which they existed. It would not have been the same in 1987, not in 2001 and not in 2019. It needed John, Paul, George and Ringo, it needed to be the 60s, that generation born at the end of World War Two coming of age, and it needed to be before technology, so limits could be pushed. This was what convinced me to take the film a lot less seriously than I probably (definitely) was.
So that is a thing it took a bit for me to get over. I had to really switch off that part of my mind that is the person who enjoys music and especially the classic rock music of yore a little too much. By taking it as a standard rom-com with a really interesting set-up, and some good (awesome) music, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film. It is a fun ride, it is pleasant. Come on, if you've seen a Richard Curtis rom-com, you'll see the ending coming from a mile away! But that doesn't matter. Because this is a good ride, one of the better Curtis-written films I've seen, and on my second viewing, I really got into the emotion more, especially Lennon's speech to Jack.
It took me two viewings. But I watched it twice in one day. I really enjoyed it. I hope you will, too.