Released: 27th June
Seen: 8th July
The first Beatles song that I remember hearing was Octopus’s Garden. I remember it being performed in my grade school class with big pieces of cardboard cut out into various sea animals and painted with fluorescent paint that a bunch of small children would wave around randomly while singing a cover version of the fifth track from Abbey Road. I’m not sure if we were on key, but we were precious children and so everyone claimed to like it because you’d have to be some kind of monster to tell a bunch of kids that they didn’t do a good job of paying respect to one of the greatest bands of all time. I hope we can all agree that telling a bunch of children that they’re bad at doing a Beatles tribute act would be mean… however, if you want to tell a bunch of grown adults making a million dollar film that their Beatles tribute act is bad then that’s OK. I mean, I plan on spending the next few paragraphs saying exactly that, so it’d be a bit silly if I thought it was mean.
Yesterday follows Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) a warehouse worker who occasionally does pub gigs and little town festivals where he plays his own music to an adoring crowd consisting of his three friends and a bunch of drunks. Disheartened, Jack decides one day to give up his dreams of being a recording artist. He gets into a bit of an argument with his manager, friend and obvious love interest Ellie Appleton (Lily James) and goes off home on his bike. Suddenly, all the lights go out around the world for 12 seconds and during that 12 seconds, Jack gets hit by a bus that sends him flying through the air. Through the magical properties of “Don’t question it”, Jack wakes up in the hospital and everything seems to be the same at first until he realises that nobody but him knows who The Beatles are. Indeed, it’s as though The Beatles never existed which means none of their songs existed. Struck by an idea that can best be described as “the entire gimmick this movie relies on in order to justify its existence”, Jack decides to pass off The Beatles songs as his own which naturally means that he would get the exact same reaction in 2019 that they got back in the ’60s. It’s Beatlemania, but with one guy who isn’t quite as good as the originals and who exists in a world where we also don’t have Coca Cola or cigarettes… because, ya know, that’s linked directly to The Beatles.
To say that the writers didn’t properly think through their idea would be something of an understatement. The entire concept literally revolves around “What if the Beatles never existed?” but refuses to actually answer that properly. Without The Beatles, most of the music you love would either not exist or be drastically different. Do a quick bit of research into your favourite band or artist and I promise you that one of their named influences would be The Beatles. Without them, the musical landscape would be so different that we couldn’t recognise it. According to this movie though, it’d be the exact same. Ed Sheeran would still have a career and music would be recorded the exact same way. Sure, let’s ignore the fact that The Beatles basically created the landscape that would allow an Ed Sheeran to have a major career, ignore how they changed the way we record and listen to music, ignore their entire cultural impact which is so huge that there is literally a Wikipedia page all about the specific cultural impact that they had that would have no longer happened… nope, because according to Yesterday, everything is exactly the same as it always was except we don’t have Coca Cola which was invented in 1886, cigarettes which have been around forever, but been called cigarettes since around the early 1800’s and Oasis which would make both of the Gallagher brothers very happy because they would have more time for their favourite activity, calling each other twats.
If we ignore the lack of logic in the way the concept has been done, the actual text of the script isn’t that good either. What’s trying to be light and joyful just ends up being boring thanks to a main character who is just a douche. It’s not on Patel, who can actually be quite charming when he’s given charming moments to play, but he’s written like an irritating entitled asshole who finally becomes good because… well, a tasteless cameo that I’m not going to spoil, but it’s tasteless and tacky and really makes you wonder if anyone explained that cameo to anyone else before putting it in. The characters are either irritating or clichéd or just belong in a very different movie. Kate McKinnon who plays Jack’s LA manager? She’s literally in a giant farcical comedy where it would make sense for her to yell out “Stop, for the love of money” in a dramatic moment. Honestly, the only person who comes out of this movie unscathed is Ed Sheeran who basically does the same thing Jennifer Tilly did in Seed of Chucky and just spends the entire film making fun of himself and his career. I mean, you kind of feel sorry for the poor guy by the end of it because everyone is making fun of him… and then you remember that he’s worth over 100 million and can do whatever he wants and suddenly you just feel sad. Seriously though, Ed gives the best performance in the film because at very least I felt like I was rooting for him to not be shat upon all the time, even if he did decide to screw with Hey Jude because he thought it’d sound better as Hey Dude.
Then we get to how this film looks and on the surface, it’s fine, at least at first. Then you start noticing that they’re using a large amount of Dutch angles for no reason, and then there are some weird cutaways that just do nothing for the film, and then we’re in a dream sequence that’s never fully acknowledged and then the editing sucks and I start to wonder what happened. It really just makes it hard to follow at times and feels messy. It’s not like its unwatchable or even jarringly bad, but it’s not good either. The visuals never seem to really fit the film itself, possibly because the film itself is so bland that it doesn’t have an actual identity that could be given an appropriate visual style. It didn’t hurt to watch, but it also wasn’t that exciting.
Yesterday is a forgettable film with a great idea that they executed poorly. If I wanted to watch a pub karaoke version of Let It Be that gets constantly interrupted by irritating people, I’d just go to an actual pub and request that the band play Let It Be. It’s a poorly written film with a few moments of decency slipping out between the layers of “Meh”. I’m sure some people will be able to enjoy it as just a simple romance with some songs they like, but that romance is overshadowed by a poorly thought out concept that could’ve been so much better.