Years later, I am still appalled by “Yesterday”‘s untapped potential

Yesterday (2019 poster).png

I don’t watch many movies, which is a tad odd given that I work in the movie/tv industry, but that’s the truth. As such, there are very few movies that truly get me excited, and usually it takes a bunch of convincing (from myself and others) to get me to go to the theatre to watch a a new film.

Yesterday (Dir. by Danny Boyle, Universal Pictures, 2019) was a movie that since I saw the trailer I was eager to watch. The premise is wonderful: One day everyone forgets that the Beatles ever existed, except for a single person, Jack Malik (played by Himesh Patel), a struggling musician who takes advantage of the situation and decides to take credit for their music, becoming incredibly famous.

If you haven’t watched the movie, I recommend you do before you read this, because there will be SPOILERS.

As I said, I was so excited to watch Yesterday, both because I love the Beatles and because I have thoroughly enjoyed Danny Boyle’s movies in the past. And while watching it I remember kind of enjoying it.

But then, as the film progressed, I felt a certain surge of uneasiness rise within me. I first attributed this to what I have dubbed “The Film School Graduate Curse”, in which now movies are held to a higher standard for no other reason than you kind-of understand the way movies are made due to having gone to Film School. It is a petulant curse to have and I wish I didn’t have it, since I enjoyed movies waaay more before going to film school, but I can’t deny I have it and while it makes me uncomfortable to admit that I am a bit petulant when it comes to films, I have to admit I am. It’s a full disclosure kina thing.

Once the credits rolled though, and I examined the whole movie in my head, I realized it wasn’t my curse rising up.

The movie wasn’t good. The premise was underdeveloped. The story left a lot of questions open-ended just because they weren’t brave enough to pursue an answer to them. What the heck. Bear in mind this is a 2 year old movie and it still bothers me.

My two main issues with the movie are

  • The wasted potential of The Beatles never having existed and the impact of that in modern society and musical culture
  • The fact that the romantic comedy part of it took over the interesting premise and it vouches for certain unhealthy dynamics in romantic relationships.

First the wasted potential. Jeez, how infuriating this is.

So the Beatles never existed. In a hypothetical universe where this happens, what would the musical scene have looked like? What bands would have taken their place? Would Ed Sheeran even exist? (Because let’s remember he was for some reason a super important part of the plot) Not only that, but would Ed Sheeran’s songs even sound the same way they do? The movie makes no effort to try to find out, they just kept everything the exact same way, just sans Beatles. That makes no sense. What if Sheeran’s parents met or fell in love to a Beatles’ song? Maybe he would have never been born. This would have been a great chance to use actual celebrities like Sheeran as actors, but changing their demeanor, profession or style! There was also a focus on Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. Would that song have existed without the Beatles? Maybe not!

Let’s assume things would have been the same, like in the movie. Everyone would revere the music of The Kinks, maybe, or The Hollies, or maybe The Who would be even bigger than it is now. And that’s just assuming that the “British invasion” would have been as prominent without The Beatles. There was this weird thing in the movie where everybody treated Jack’s music, the stuff he stole from the Beatles, as if it was the best music ever written. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Beatles, but I think it simplifies things too much to say they were the best of the best of the best and everything they wrote was too good to ever be surpassed by anything else. No single musician has this quality, in my opinion, as much as we like an artist there will never be an objective “best of the best”, because music taste is super subjective. Plus after 60 years, with how interesting and elaborate and profound music in general has become, I can see how The Beatles would have become less revolutionary.

The only way in which Beatles music would have made as big a splash nowadays, as it did in the movie, would have been if the global music scene hadn’t changed at all since the 60s. Now that would have been an interesting place to take it to.

The filmmakers could have taken the chance to make a different (not necessarily extremely so, but reasonably so) society for Jack to find himself in, where pop culture has changed due to the fact that 60 years of art/music inspired by the Beatles are gone. Then, maybe, that’s why The Beatles’ music would have been so successful in this new world. Instead they made a half-hearted “everything is exactly the same just. Just with no Beatles. Ugh.

And these are just my ideas, from playing with the concept for about 20 minutes, and I am sure Hollywood has plenty of people more creative than I am. The movie’s budget, according to Wikipedia, was somewhere between 26 and 41 million US dollars. So much could have been done with that. Let’s move on.

Now, the romantic comedy bit.

Did it have to be a romantic comedy? I don’t think so. I think the love interest bit and the one sided attraction from Ellie (played by Lily James) to clueless Jack was charming and a good aspect of the film, but I don’t think it had to take over. The unhealthy dynamics that I referred to previously is the fact that once Ellie confesses to Jack, he realizes he actually liked her all along, but since Ellie doesn’t want famous Jack, she wants the Jack that she fell in love with (earnest, kind), she decides it’s time to move on. Plus, he never really noticed, and she’s tired of waiting.

Two things about this: first, she could have made the first move. The trope of the female character waiting for the male to make a move is so outdated and silly nowadays. Give some agency to your female characters, for crying out loud. Putting that aside, I think her decision to move on is good. Like, really good. Especially if the direction in which Jack is going is not something she wants to be involved with. If Jack is so immature that he gets FOMO now that he knows she loves him, that’s on him, and it’s not her responsibility to take him in now that he is suddenly into her.

And it seemed that she would move on and Jack would end up having to deal with the fact that he missed out on a potentially good relationship with a person close and dear to him. That would have been a good opportunity for growth and development, especially after the way he gives up on his fame dream at the end. If he manages to grow and move on in spite of that, that demonstrates he has learned from his journey. But instead she dumps her actually lame boyfriend (who happens to look kinda like George Harrison? That’s… not kind to Harrison, filmmakers) and gets together with him and they live happily ever after. Sigh.

I don’t know, it didn’t feel warranted. It felt like a cheap way to have a happy ending and tie “loose ends” that didn’t need tying? They didn’t need to get together, in my opinion. I was more interested in learning why the whole Beatles never existing happened, and why only a handful of people remembered them (did they all get hit by a bus? I don’t recall them explaining this and I won’t watch the movie again).

One minor criticism: Patel’s singing of “Help!” was obnoxious.

On the other hand, it was a very pretty film, quite well made, and the photograpgy and cinematography were wonderful. Also the crazy manager (played by Kate McKinnon) was fantastic.

But yeah. That’s pretty much the rant I go over in my head every time I remember how much the untapped potential of this movie infuriates me. Jee. Pers.

Thanks for reading.