Yesterday – All the Beatles Seemed So Far Away

 

What a clever premise for a film – everyone but our hero wakes up never knowing The Beatles. In our house the Beatles seem to be everywhere: we saw Paul McCartney in concert the other night and last summer he sat at dinner a couple tables away on an obscure island in Greece. We have been playing Beatles Monopoly regularly, and we have seen the Cirque du Soleil Beatles collaboration “LOVE” several times.

Hence we were well prepared for Yesterday.

The first part of the film adroitly sets up the main storyline – struggling musician is getting nowhere (despite a well-shot appearance at Latitude Festival), he decides to chuck it in, incurs a bike accident in the midst of a twelve second global blackout and then discovers no one has ever heard the music of the four Liverpudlians.

Jack (Himesh Patel) is hugely convincing in his effort to relearn the most valuable songbook in history. The songs are recorded live, adding immediacy to the music scenes. The initial cluelessness of his friends are crucial building blocks. Fortunately, each successive glimpse into the new normal are well-played, and soon Jack is off and running.

Jack struggles with the ethics of his burgeoning success, but he continues snowballing forward. Soon Ed Sheeran (playing himself remarkably well) pays a visit and offers Jack an opening slot. With Sheeran’s real life tour about to overtake U2 as the most lucrative in history, the casting director hit a home run.

Sheeran’s agent Debra (Kate McKinnon) is likewise well cast, guiding Jack to the toppermost rung of the music business ladder.

But soon the second part of the film emerges. The breadcrumbs of Jack’s long relationship with his manager Ellie (Lily James) are soon gathered and we see the film blossom into a love story. James is excellent as lovely Ellie, and we have been wanting she and Jack to further connect from the outset.

Stepping back, it is clear that the film’s producers saw the wisdom of pairing Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) with screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually). The former has a superbly deft hand in integrating music with film, and the latter has shown major success in weaving unconventional yet convincing love stories. In fact, one of Curtis’ best wedding scenes includes the surprise rendition of “All You Need is Love.”

The storyline for Yesterday was created by Jack Barth, who was trying for decades to get the film made. Apparently his original story was darker than the one Curtis developed.

In addition to a treasure trove of their music performed admirably by Jack, the film includes many unstated homages to The Beatles history: Jack’s first performance of his new album is on a rooftop (The Beatles’ final performance was on the roof of their offices in Soho), and a long and winding road takes Jack to a truly emotional encounter.

The film is lushly shot, with most outdoor scenes sunny and warm. The rest of the cast is engaging, including James Corden playing himself in a brief cameo. Corden of course accompanied McCartney last summer on a wonderful tour of Liverpool as part of Corden’s Carpool Karaoke series.

One last point. In his bike accident, Jack gets his two front teeth knocked out. What is it about recent music films and this British focus on front teeth (Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman)?

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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