Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Richard Curtis
Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, and Kate McKinnon
Running time 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA rating PG-13, for the kids cause Ed Sheeran is in this 🙄
by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
Ed Sheeran. Ed. Sheeran. Sheeeee-rannnn. He’s everywhere. He follows me, I swear it. In approximately 94.32% of the Uber/Lyft rides I took between 2017 and the first half of 2019, I heard at least one Ed Sheeran song. That is actual and it’s factual. Sometimes it’s the “I’m in love with your body” song, or lately it’s been his new kinda sorta reggae jam “When I’m with my baby yeah at the party”. Occasionally it’s that one insufferable slow song that is probably, most likely, the wedding song for 1/3 of all newly married couples everywhere - the one where he says his woman looks perfect tonight. But more often than not it’s that other insufferable slow song that gets me mad aggy - the one that is most definitely the wedding song for the other 2/3 of the newly married population everywhere. The one where he wants you to take him into his loving arms, hold him under the stars, and then kiss his beating heart or whatever. I will do none of those things, Ed Sheeran! And no I’m not going to look up the actual titles to these songs because nah. And to my future Uber/Lyft drivers, the only songs I want to hear in your cars right now are anything Lizzo and “Megatron” by Nicki Minaj. So there.
But like, to make matters worse, there was also the time when Sheeran showed up in the season seven premiere of my beloved Game of Thrones. At that moment I felt the world supremely messing with me cause Ed Sheeran doesn’t belong in no Westeros! The fuck outta here with this ginger nonsense, singing one of his acoustic songs and “playing” a soldier. Hell to the nah, to the nah, nah, nah!
Don’t get me started on the time he made a video and cast my boojawn Rupert Grint (Ron from the Harry Potter franchise, respect) as the “Ed Sheeran” in it. Just…never bring that up in conversation with me and you will live a nice, long life.
Well, imagine my reaction at the Yesterday screening earlier this week when I reached the painfully horrifying conclusion that Ed Sheeran wasn’t just another cameo in this Brit-light satire on the music industry. No He’s A Real Comedic Actor, playing himself, in multiple scenes. 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄.
Despite all of this, the premise of Yesterday is a quite intriguing one: what would happen if one day the music of The Beatles (and perhaps, other pop culturally amazing things) just vanished? No one remembered them. No one even knew they ever existed to begin with. As a Beatles fan, all I could think of is, holy shit. What would I have done without The White Album getting me through high school? What if I had never laughed and cheered my way through A Hard Day’s Night (the movie) regularly since the age of 14? What if “Something” (face it, the most romantical song ever created) and George’s beyond beautiful guitar-playing didn’t exist? What if I hadn’t spent countless moments replaying the final 20 seconds of “The End” over and over and over again, mesmerized by the simple perfection of how much I “loved some silly little piece of music,” to quote Almost Famous? I feel I’m not really the most qualified to write about music - I’m lacking in clarity and articulation. So all I can really say is…man, I heart The Beatles so much. Just…so, so, so much.
Okay so what if you were the only person on the planet, or one of a select few who actually did remember the music of The Beatles? And what if you happened to be a struggling musician? What then? Would you pretend the songs were yours and shoot for the moon? Or would you just keep that knowledge to yourself?
This is precisely the pickle Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) gets himself into. He’s tired of just Getting By With a Little Help From His Friends: playing gigs with just locals and buds, tired of playing the same old songs no one cares about (except his poppy “Summer Song”), tired of having his manager/best friend Ellie (Lily James) drive him all over to play shows with very little attendance, tired of his meaningless job at the Price Star - a Costco-esque warehouse grocery store. He pretty much gives up on his music career when a freak electrical outage throws all of existence into another timeline in which The Beatles were never a thing. All of existence except Malik, of course.
It all starts innocently enough. After a bus accident during said freak electrical outage, Malik recovers and is gifted a new guitar to replace his damaged one. He’s asked to play a song and he chooses “Yesterday” by The Beatles. When he realizes no one has ever heard of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, he literally can’t believe what’s happening. While His Guitar Gently Weeps during his regular gigs (he’s back to being a musician now), he devises a devious little plan to keep the music alive…he pretends it’s his. This also felt like a nod to this notion lately that there are very little original ideas left - that we’re just regurgitating the same old shit, over and over again, especially in movies and television, however the film doesn’t go too far in that direction. Before we know it, Malik’s a local celebrity and then my dude Ed Sheeran pops up. To his credit, Sheeran plays a wily facsimile of himself that is total bumbling white boy bro meets Jealous Guy (I’m well aware this is just a John Lennon song, but I have to mention it because Donny Hathaway’s live version at the Bitter End in 1971 is genius and also my girlfriend’s favorite song ever, so). Yeah, Sheeran plays kind of a dumb-butt? Which I sorta kinda enjoyed? Maybe not enough to like, become a fan of his music or anything, but it made me like him a small smidgen of a bit.
With all of this cheekiness, Yesterday starts to veer off into witty skewering territory - by this time Sheeran’s manager (played with maniacal glee by Kate McKinnon) has ushered him into the limelight, and her team and record label get to work on image-making. There’s a clever scene where the marketing folks host a big meeting to reveal Malik’s image and album cover and it’s fascinating to wonder what would have happened if The Beatles came around in this day and age - how would they have been pasteurized and packaged for the masses? It reminded me of another quote from Almost Famous - Lester Bangs’ speech about how rock music would eventually diverge into an “industry of cool.” As fast as Danny Boyle’s competent direction and Richard Curtis’ script brings out the knife for the music industry, it just as quickly puts that knife back in the drawer and instead chooses to make a nice, mild cup of tea.
I like Richard Curtis, I do. He’s written some great things over the years. Things like a bunch of Mr. Bean movies. And Four Weddings and a Funeral. And Blackadder. And Love Actually. About Time. The Bridget Jones movies. He’s responsible for that “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy” stuff in Notting Hill. And Yesterday is a Working Title joint, so I should have known what I was really getting myself into when I sat down in the theater. Because, after all, Yesterday is a romantic comedy. Oh! Duh! How did I not realize this? But where it fumbles its highly original premise, it does the same with the romance. It’s like Richard Curtis, after writing mildly interesting first and second acts, saw a commercial for a Brownie Batter Blizzard from DQ and could NOT get that out his damn mind and wrote the rest of the movie in ten minutes and was all “Ya’ll are on your own - thanks for watching! Nom nom nom.” Equally distressing, the character of Ellie has no purpose except to serve the needs and requirements of Jack. She is his loyal friend and manager. She never gives up on his struggling music career. She drives him litchrilly everywhere (seriously Ellie, be a real friend and get that man to a driving school! Or buy him a bus pass). The only things we know about Ellie are that 1. she’s hopelessly devoted to Jack, 2. she teaches maths, 3. she’s loved Jack since they were kids. Hmmm. Huhhhh. She sounds like…she sounds like…many other female Richard Curtis characters (See Keira Knightley in Love Actually, Rachel McAdams in About Time, and Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral for the most obvious examples). So I guess i shouldn’t be surprised? I was just disappointed is all.
Another thing that let me down a bit is the notion that The Beatles are known only for amazing songwriting. When Malik gets out there and starts performing their songs as his own, it’s just him and a guitar. These stripped down versions are perfectly fine, but if I heard “Back in the USSR” for the first time played by one dude and an electric guitar, I don’t think I would have fallen in love with it as much as I did the version on The White Album. Curtis and Boyle are assuming that the lyrics themselves are the main selling point of The Beatles catalog but I highly disagree - it’s the harmonies, the innovative sound design, the musicianship, the going in new directions that countless bands have sampled and copied and lifted from to this day. It’s not just the lyrics that makes people love The Beatles. Okay? Okay.
There are worse movies than Yesterday out right now. So that’s going for it? There are some cute moments, and Himesh Patel is quite talented. I have no idea why Danny Boyle decided to make this film and I’m sure I could Google it but honestly I prefer to just bask in the knowledge that in this plane of existence The Beatles do in fact exist. And even though Ed Sheeran is still here, that’s okay. I’ll Let It Be.