Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away . . . .
Yesterday is a movie written by British screenwriter Richard Curtis. Among his plethora of fine stories told in a cinematic form are – Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary, About Time and War Horse.
It is directed by Danny (Daniel) Boyle. His list of credits is every part as impressive as Curtis’. They include – Shallow Grave [his 1994 debut film which won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film.], Slumdog Millionaire and the more recent Steve Jobs.
So when two very talented men combine their crafts in “Yesterday”, you might expect a critically claimed movie.
This is not the case!
On one hand it has received a lot of praise for the concept, as being a “feel good” movie, for the sequencing and use of the compositions by Lennon and McCartney and George Harrison, and the performances by the actors.
On the other hand it is been decried as too simplistic, great songs looking for a story and confusing.
The concept is as follows – Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is an aspiring musician, having played the local pub circuit in his English seaside town for a decade with little success. He has rich, smooth vocals but his original songs are a quite unfashionable.
A freak 12-second blackout happens around the world and in that moment, Jack is hit by a bus. When he wakes up in hospital, the world has changed. No one remembers The Beatles anymore, or Coca-Cola or cigarettes.
No one that is, except for Jack.
Asked to play something by his friends he chooses Yesterday.
The response by them, in particular his best friend/manager and taxi driver, Ellie, played by Kate McKinnon, is one of utter amazement and delight. When she asks him who wrote it, Jack answers – the Beatles.
This is moment when he begins to understand, slowly at first, that the Beatles have never existed when Ellie has no idea of who is talking about. A quick Google search by him throws up no mention of the Beatles at all.
In the beginning being considered as the writer of great songs, jack is embraced by friends and locals and begins to build up a small following. He is even invited into a small local studio, located next to a train track.
it is here that he begins to record, and it is all fun. This is the fun that gradually becomes more serious.
Through a series of circumstances he is thrown together with Ed Sheeran, when Ed, played by himself, turns up at Jack’s door seeking more information on the song.
The film is interspersed with some very funny moments such as when his parents ask him about a piece they hear him playing, so he attempts to play it for them, but is constantly interrupted in all sorts of ways. The message is, that his parents don’t really understand how important what Jack is doing is to him – in fact his father comes from the “why don’t you get a real job”, generation.
But with Ed requesting Jack be his opening act – on a tour in Russia, Jack launches into a full-blown version of Back in the USSR.
The result is pandemonium in the crowd, and it is at this point that Ed’s manager, Deborah – played by Kate McKinnon, can see that the opportunity to make a lot more money comes from Jack, than Ed.
Ed is still supportive of Jack, although as the film progresses he begins to understand that Jack’s compositions (really Lennon and McCartney’s) are far superior. Well he gets that right!
Mind you, Ed asks why Jack used USSR when that union of republics had not existed for some time. This is the first of many such questions Jack has to fudge.
Jack finds himself in LA where he, and his interpretations of the Beatles songs. Are a massive hit and real stardom is on the cusp.
Gradually his innocence and his desire to project him and the music as he sees it progressing is modified, manipulated and controlled by everyone involved – particularly Deborah who is all about the “commodity”.
But even Ed puts in his bit, when he convinces Jack that Hey Jude should be changed to “Hey Dude”.
However as fame and fortune beckons, slowly but surely Jack starts to have a real existential crisis – on one hand the Beatles have never existed, so why not use their music, on the other hand – he is really a fake.
In order to try and understand where The Beatles may have got their inspiration from, Jack decides on a pilgrimage to Liverpool. Interestingly, despite some excellent George Harrison tracks in then Beatles songbook, none are used in the movie.
At this point we become aware of two people who seem to be following him – and it turns out that they are the only other two people who remember the Beatles and their songs.
When they confront Jack, it seems his greatest fears are about to be realised, he is about to be exposed as a fraud.
They are so pleased that he is keeping the music of the Beatles alive – for a world without their music is a world that is incomplete. In fact, they give him a clue to help him on his quest to discover more about the Beatles and their music.
Don’t listen to this audio sample if you don’t want to understand what happens when Jack tracks down the real John Lennon. Because the Beatles never existed, so John was never shot!
This is a brilliant concept indeed. The visit and meeting is both poignant, moving and sets Jack on his way to the climax of the film.
It is during this latter part of the film that the unrequited love Ellie has had for Jack provides a push-pull emotional moment.
Will Jack grasp the absolute fame and fortune which lays at his feet at a giant concert in Wembley or will he chose Ellie who cannot live the lie.
The film works for me on a number of levels.
The story concept is actually quite good and within it are layers of philosophy and moral dilemmas.
For example. We all wear a variety of masks in life. Some we wear in private and some in public. However, how many of us could resist following a path of fame and fortune if we were given the opportunity to wear a mask that wasn’t us – but fit us all the same?
It is a light hearted movie, easily enjoyed and yet if the viewer digs a little deeper, a range of messages are uncovered.
We are treated to the brilliant music of the Beatles chosen and inserted into the movie not just to support the script but too often drive the action.
We recognise the music and yet it is not presented to us in a way that tries to imitate the sound that only the Beatles could get.
My verdict – A movie that is easy to enjoy and one that reminds us how much we owe this group of four musicians, for the world indeed, would be a far less rich without their music.
Reviewed by Rob Greaves – (Senior Editor, Toorak Times)