Synopsis: Following a worldwide blackout, an aspiring songwriter realizes he’s the only person who remembers the Beatles
(In a nod to English wordsmiths, I’ve included quotes from some of the best. See if you know the writers. Answers appear at the end. Good luck & good reading!)
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” #1
Many of us are too young to have experienced the Beatles music in real time. The hysteria of fans when the group arrived in the States to play the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 telegraphs near to kitsch. How quaint with their mop tops and cheeky remarks at press conferences. But the 60’s would soon see seismic change, rocketing forward into liberation movements, the counter culture, hippiedom. (Also, groovy clothes.) And arguably the best music that rock could offer: the Rolling Stones, Hendrix, the Doors and Led Zeppelin. But none could reach the heights of the Beatles, owing much to the extraordinary songwriting of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Yesterday is, as you might expect, a love letter to the Beatles. But it also uses its movie magic for wish fulfillment: What would it be like to hear the Beatles songs, freshly released?
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” #2
Screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) begin Yesterday in a Not-London part of England where Jack (Himesh Patel) plugs away at being a singer-songwriter, busking, doing kids’ parties and playing to nearly empty tents at little music fests. His longtime friend Ellie, a schoolteacher (Lily James), is his manager. Discouraged, he vows to quit, but Ellie has faith in his talent.
Did I mention that both actors are gorgeous? Or that one of them — music trope alert– has loved the other since they were kids? IRL, these two would’ve already been already at it, but not in Cinema World. Beautiful Lily James is Darling with a capital D; as she is in Downton Abbey, Cinderella & War and Peace etc… Never change, Lily, never change. If I ever see you playing an assassin, I will run screaming from the theater! In Yesterday, Lily’s Ellie beams at Jack with pure adoration and longing. But like the UK’s most clueless fool, he doesn’t see it.
To further prove his idiocy, one night he goes biking with his guitar strapped to his back. Suddenly, all around the globe, the power goes out for several seconds. Boom! Jack gets hit by a bus. Fortunately, he survives. While convalescing, Ellie presents him with a new guitar to replace the one that didn’t survive the accident. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that he plays ‘Yesterday’ for his friends. They’re astounded. He tells them that of course they know this Beatles song. Nope. Jack rushes home where Google confirms the Beatles non-existence. Once the shock wears off, he resolves to resume his career by playing Beatles’ songs. But how to finesse their origin– the crazy truth or taking credit himself?
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” #3
Jack wants to start playing gigs ASAP with his new setlist, but first, he has to practice. Which requires remembering all the lyrics. Hmm, what was it Eleanor Rigby was doing at the church? What do we do in a yellow submarine? On Penny Lane, who keeps a portrait of the Queen in his pocket? (Movie Loon knows: Ms. Rigby picks up the rice at the church where a wedding has been; We all live in a yellow submarine; the fireman has QE2’s pic.) One day, his parents, keep interrupting as he performs ‘Let it Be’ at the piano. When he fusses that they need to pay attention to the genius song, they promise to be quiet… but seeing as they’d already heard the beginning, could he skip that part?
“The club isn’t the best place to find a lover/ So the bar is where I go” #4
When Jack gets “his” songs out, they quickly go viral. The world goes mad for the music and soon opportunity comes knocking in the form of Ed Sheerhan, pop star and famous ginger. Ed honed his acting skills on ‘Game of Thrones’ and here he does a reasonable job of playing himself. Ed asks Jack to open for him and the former becomes the butt of jokes about Mr. Sheerhan’s songwriting vs Jack’s/the Beatles. Stop it, movie! In the words of IRL tour mate Taylor Swift: Why you gotta be so mean?
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” #5
Fame pulls Jack further from Ellie and into the orbit of a high-powered manager played by SNL’s Kate McKinnon. She insists she can make him loads of money, and even more for herself. But first, she asks Jack: Is this the best you can look? It’s a fairly predictable sketch-comedian-in-a-movie turn. Which sort of grates, since the leads are acting like real people. Then again, she’s got some funny lines.
“Honest people don’t hide their deeds.” #6
What could go wrong in Jack’s new life? He’s a global VIP and has lovelorn Ellie’s unshakeable friendship. But Yesterday is more than a celebration of the Beatles’ (mostly) timeless music. It’s a comic fantasy about honesty and love and choosing where to go in your life.
Before you head to the theater, I’ll leave you with one last quote to guess…
“But of all these friends and lovers/ There is no one compares with you/ And these memories lose their meaning/ When I think of love as something new” #7
Movie Loon Movie Review Overview:
Cut to the Chase: A crowd-pleaser. And if you don’t like the Beatles? Well, you may have problems beyond Movie Loon’s understanding.
Humor Highlight: Listen for what things may also be missing from Jack’s new world
Answer key—(1) Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (2) Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (3)JK Rowlings’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (4) Ed Sheerhan’s “Shape of You” (5) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (6) Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (7) Paul McCartney & John Lennon’s “In My Life”