Yesterday poses a rather simple question: What would happen if The Beatles never existed? It's a fascinating concept in theory, so I was very excited to see how they would present such an idea.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter with modest talent who can't seem to find traction at any gig he books. He's managed by longtime best friend, Ellie (Lily James), who is his by and large is only supporter and admirer. After a particularly lackluster attendance at a music festival, he decides that pursuing a career in music isn't for him, much to the dismay of Ellie. On his way home, a global blackout happens and Jack is hit by a bus. When he wakes up, he learns he might be the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles and their music.
This month has been incredibly Beatles-packed for me, so Beatlemania in my own world is very high. I saw Paul McCartney at Globe Life Park two weeks ago and went to the A Hard Day's Night movie party/sing-along at Alamo Drafthouse earlier this week. I was raised as a Beatles fan, listen to the Beatles channel almost exclusively on XM Radio, and even have a tattoo of John Lennon's song "Imagine" on my foot. I say all this to lay the groundwork that I'm a passionate Beatles fan, so expectations were high walking into this film.
Had I written this review right after leaving the theater, it might have been a little different. I was just on a high from hearing my favorite music in a new way that I was giving the movies' issues sweeping passes. Now that I've slept on it, those passes aren't quite as sweeping.
I'll start with what I did like about this film. Our leads were absolutely charming and believable. Patel did a remarkable job handling a role like this in his first feature film. I found Ellie (Lily James) particularly endearing throughout. In the moments where we are supposed to feel something raw between them, they each brought a sweet sincerity to the scene. There was also quite a bit of humor that only added to the movie's overall charm. The supporting cast built on the light, airy quality and the overall easy feeling of the movie. And of course, I loved every moment we got to cherish the music of The Beatles.
Ed Sheeran was fine playing himself. There were some moments that his acting took me out of it, but overall his role served its purpose sufficiently. I also surprisingly appreciated the pointed take the film made about the music industry itself and how executives tend to stifle artists' creativity in place of market research and the most money-making opportunities. Debra (Kate McMinnon), Jack's new manager, is our representation of that business-first mentality that seems just sarcastic and caricatured enough to be real. It's humorous, yet makes a statement.
My biggest issues lie in the way they handled the music in the film. I appreciate the sentiment that the music and songwriting itself can withstand the test of time. Presenting the Lennon-McCartney songbook as something so transcendent on it's own apart from the men who wrote and performed them seems very flattering to the power of their songwriting, but it leaves the magic of the full package of the Beatles in the dust. These incredible songs weren't showcased in the way they deserved and that frankly felt out of sync with the movie's main point... how great and powerful the songs are.
Overall, there was just a bit of clunkiness with the way they handled this unique premise. There were so many opportunities to explore the true impact of a world without The Beatles' music and their profound influence on the music of today. I didn't need an explanation of why or how this happened (which I'm very glad they didn't try)... I just wanted more on what the true effects of that kind of shift in history would mean. They didn't show us a void that was left in the world without The Beatles (and a few other things that I won't spoil here) in order for us to feel the impact of their music's triumphant return via Jack. I wanted to be shown why that music was so wonderful and not just told that it is. Instead, we got a fairly cute romantic comedy peppered in with piece of some great Beatles tracks.
In a world where I have choices of movies centered around The Beatles, I would pick Across the Universe every time. That movie feels more like a love story to the music than this did, not to say this is a bad movie whatsoever. It just didn't quite live up to its own potential.
Brit's Tip: Go into this movie fully prepared to suspend all disbelief and just enjoy the escape. It's still worth the watch for a pretty sweet story accompanied by The Beatles.
*Spoilery note below!*
There is a very surprising cameo towards the end of the movie that literally made me gasp aloud. I found it to be very emotional, but I could see it making people angry or uncomfortable. As shocking as it was, I took the scene to be really sweet and profound, but that could be due to the strong affinity I have for this individual and wishing this moment could really happen. I just ask that we all keep in mind that Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the estates of George Harrison and John Lennon all signed off on and support this film before reacting too harshly to this cameo.