With the recent Beatles influenced film, Yesterday, I wanted to see it in a theater, but I waited until it hit my local second-run movie house(I usually wait until the hype has boiled down on these things to make up my own mind). I knew its basic plot about a young aspiring immigrant musician in England being in a bus accident and going into a fantasy that when he wakes up no one else had remembered Beatles’ songs, but himself. But soon after, he starts singing them and claiming he wrote them, and he’s about to become the biggest pop star on the planet. At first, it seemed the movie was a combination of director, Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and screenwriter, Richard Curtis’ quirky Brit. Rom- Coms., usually staring Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill) previous movies. Or Slumdog Millionaire meets Bridget Jones- but with a Beatles song track-which in many ways, it was. Interestingly, the back story is somewhat similar to the recent Queen bio.–pic., Bohemian Rhapsody, about real life immigrant , Freddie Mercury, wanting to become the next big pop star too. I thought upon viewing that film that it was almost a caricature , especially with the lead actor equipped with an excess of fake teeth, supposedly because Mercury had a larger mouth with more teeth than normal, which partly accounted for his wider range vocals in his songs and with his exaggerated mannerisms(although it was supposed to be a true story).
The characters in Yesterday are also almost carictures too. The musician, Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel( Bit. soap opera, Eastenders) and his childhood friend, first manager, and eventual crush, Ellie( played by Lily James from Downton Abbey) are almost too wide-eyed naïve and innocent to be true( certainly in these times). They become pitted against the stereotyped Big Bad Music Business, personified by the Evil New Manager, played by Saturday Night Live comedian, Katherine McKinnon. Her portrayal, especially, is way over the top and extreme, almost like the evil nemesis Cruella de Vil in Disney’s original cartoon, One Hundred and One Dalmations. I thought at first this movie was meant to be taken straight. But later I realized the whole film was not only a fantasy, in the lead characters head, but in ours too. The film was actually, I think, a more like cartoon. Much as the 2nd Beatles film, Help was. Even though Beatles fans at the time, despite its silly plot (something about Ringo being chased around for his ring) took it seriously as a continuation of their first Marx Brothers-compared movie classic, A Hard Day’s Night. Even though the Beatles themselves knew better (spending most of the time on set for Help, high on pot and and giggling to themselves at the absurdity of it all). “We were extras in our own film.”, Lennon later said.
Like Help, what saves Yesterday is, of course, Beatles’ music. It also strangely reminded me of the Beatles cartoon, Yellow Submarine (which The Beatles themselves had little to do with in the making). Yesterday, at some points as when it visits Liverpool landmarks, puts Yellow Submarine-like big colorful titles of some of their songs across the screen. But it also continued the clichéd arc of films these days about pop music and rock stars: starting out unknown; being discovered virtually overnight (in Yesterday’s case, current pop idol, Ed Sheeran, playing himself, shows up at Jacks door); then getting caught up in the fame and temptations of the Music Business, but in the end( despite many rock stars in real life dying of their own excesses)-- but that’s okay because their music will out survive them- goes the usual theme. So the myths continue. But in this fairy tale , of course, the hero comes to his senses and recognizes the error of his ways and they live happily ever after(“Ob La Di Ob La DA. Life Goes on Bra).” There’s also a scene with talk show host, James Cordon, doing his usual in real life fawning to rock and movie stars, which I think was meant to be a satire of the media coverage today and how they both build you up and then tear you down with the next breath. Ironically, it was Cordon who took Paul back to his childhood house in Liverpool last year. Paul probably only did it being the savy PR man he is, to promote his latest album, Egypt Station.
The audience I saw it with was almost entirely Baby Boomers. When it first came out, on several Beatles sites, Boomers defended the film because they said it would allow younger generations to rediscover Beatles music (even in this watered down form) and hoped to take their own children and grandchildren to see it. I thought it was revealing that my generation was so insecure about their own music, that they were even worried about this. I’m not, for the Beatles will be known, I’m sure, not only for their music, but because they also changed the wider culture. We don’t really know what pop music will be like in a hundred years or more from now. Maybe those grainy black and white photos and films of them playing on Ed Sullivan will be like us watching old silent films from the 20’s and 30’s. But just like we know the best of that era still, Chaplin, Keaton, and the Marx Bros. when people look back on our century the Beatles will be a part of it. Because they also represent a time of historical change, the 60s(which in turn affected them to change too). There’s a scene at the end of Yesterday, where, a character, (you-know-who) makes a brief appearance. The audience actually gets quiet as they recognize him(even though I thought it didn’t look that much like him or especially sound like him), as we waited for the icon he has become, words of wisdom(to borrow Paul’s expression). But then its right back to Beatles covers. The Beatles and publishers reportedly got $10 Million alone for the use of their songs.
It would be curious to see what young people do see in the film, not having the baggage we do about our own music and memories. They might see the film more like a graphic novel, which ironically, there was a French one in 2011 called Yesterday, with a similar theme (which would fit in with my theory that the film is really more of a cartoon). But I don’t think most of the audience (or the critics, who gave it mixed reviews ) understand this. Most of the audience were just taping their toes along to the catchy nostalgia of it all (I noticed most of the songs were McCartney ones). I overheard a lady next to me tell her friend that the actor in that climatic scene was played by his son, Julian. I responded that, no it wasn’t, but that if it had of been, it might have looked more like him. And that I had met his mother, Cynthia. We both stayed to watch as the credits rolled to see who was playing the part, but it didn’t seem to be listed. Research later showed it was Scottish actor (no wonder his accent seemed confused) Robert Carlyle, from the previous Boyle film, Trainspotting. Then that woman said, “Well, the music today is not as good as our music.” I realized that each generation is caught up in its own little bubble. Yesterday was a light bubble of a film, whose Beatles’ songs saved it from bursting into reality. I came with a couple of friends: my ex-wife, whom said afterwards she didn’t get the film, but who usually likes Hugh Grant movies and happy endings. Part of that may be because we arrived a few minutes late and she didn’t realize it was a fantasy inside the lead characters’ head. My male friend, who also came with us and who’s into early 60’s music, liked the character of Ellie( and the actress who played her, Lily James). He dreams in real life of women like her, which I joked probably don’t even exist anymore, since perhaps 1962, or in movies such as this. In some ways, her character and the film, reminded me of an innocence long gone by. Which is why “Yesterday”, I maintain, is basically a Baby Boomer fantasy and cartoon.