Food: As the quarantine has taken full effect, my food recommendations are becoming limited. I am going to give easy home recipes from stuff that you might have in the house that are semi-in theme with the film. A classic Beatles album is Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, so we will call this dish ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Dish’ (very creative I know) and I am going to make a black bean (so British) mixture that bakes inside a pepper! First you get a large red or green bell pepper and cut the top off, and then clean out the insides so you are left with a pepper shaped bowl. Then, you put Black Beans, avocado and brown rice on the inside. Cook for about 10-15 minutes in the oven on 350 degrees. Take out, top with shredded cheese and sour cream! Voila!
Film: “Yesterday” (2019) is a film that has so much potential, but fails to utilize that potentially so terribly that it was actually frustrating to watch. The concept generally is what if there was a world where The Beatles never existed. However, in a film that is trying to depict the absolutely staggering brilliance of the band, it somehow does the exact opposite. And not intentionally.
I have four main gripes with the film. First, “Yesterday” confuses its approach on whether or not The Beatles would have the same success in the 21st century as they did in the sixties. Next, there are major plot holes that go mostly unacknowledged and end up feeling like a distraction, rather than an accentuation. Further, the writing and choices made to tell this story were goofy. And, lastly, the characters felt wasted.
If “Yesterday” was a film that was trying to show that The Beatles could never have the same momentum today, then, fine. Because that feels true. It was part of a larger cultural movement which spurned on others and with the landscape of interests and the over-stimulation in music and entertainment today, it feels like no band is ever going to be sensationalized the way that bands were in the 1960’s. But, that is not what “Yesterday” did. Instead, the film decides that the music of The Beatles was so flawless and undeniably ‘good’ that any no-name who just picked up a guitar at a local shop and started haphazardly strumming would achieve instant success. The songs performed with modern production design and one man singer-songwriter showmanship to the blind love of millions feels so off it is almost comical. Would “A Hard Day’s Night” have the same impact on folk-rock sound if it was made after popular folk bands like Mumford & Sons, instead of being the band that paved the way for those? Would “Back in the USSR” still move fans to tears 30 years after the Iron Curtain fell?
Next, the film introduces other phenomenons that also suddenly ceased to exist, but then refuses to follow up on them. Coca cola, Harry Potter, cigarettes, potentially Oasis… inexplicably gone. Are these all supposed to be tied together? Would the loss of one impact the ability for the other to exist? Why those particular novelties? Why would members of The Beatles exist, but their band never formed? Why did some other people similarly remember the band, but not everyone? The film leaves loads of questions unanswered and unaddressed to a bothersome degree. There is only so much of a plot that an audience should have to accept mindlessly. “Yesterday” consistently gives clues about its alternate universe without intending for them to mean something to such a degree that it is completely distracting.
Finally, Richard Curtis, screenwriter, is a master of charming and uncomplicated films (known for “Love Actually” 2003, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” 1994, and “Notting Hill” 1999). My favorite, “About Time” (2013), however, is an example where he explores a complicated premise, about a man who has the ability to travel in time, but the explanation is entirely unnecessary to the success of the characters and, therefore, the film. For the most part, Curtis thrives in the romantic comedy space when the human stories are at the forefront. Unfortunately, even that aspect of this film falls short. The writing feels cheesy, predictable and fails to even get much of a laugh. There is far too much Ed Sheeran in the film, and he is not a good actor, even while playing himself. The two lead characters are fantastic – Lily James is as delightful as ever and Himesh Patel is an excellent lead. But, their love story is baffling. There is no straight forward reason why they should not be together, but the arc of the film relies on them finally getting together, while much of the dialogue is just them discussing why they can’t be together. It is boring and far-reaching for some semblance of conflict. Danny Boyle, conversely, has brought intricate story lines to the screen skillfully (see “Slumdog Millionaire” 2008), but the concepts are fully fleshed out. As a presumed homage to The Beatles experimental music videos and aesthetic, but the transitions look like screensavers and it feels cheesy.
There are plenty of thought-provoking, well-written revisionist history movies and books that speak to the impact that something or someone has on society. To contemplate a world where The Beatles, one of the most influential bands in popular music history, never was is a compelling prompt. But to pretend everything would be exactly the same, except the world would be missing some great tunes, is an affront to the entire concept. It is a shame that Curtis and Boyle didn’t just opt for an endearing rom-com with James and Patel and call it a day, but “Yesterday” did not work for me.