Imagine there’s no Beatles. It’s easy if you try. No John, Paul, George or Ringo writing Lucy in the Sky.
It’s a hell of a concept. Dare I say, the greatest elevator pitch I’ve ever heard. “Yesterday”, as the tagline goes, “everyone knew the Beatles. Today, only Jack remembers their songs. He's about to become a very big deal.” As far as movie ideas go, that’s perfection. It’s high concept, yet incredibly simple. Terrifying to contemplate, yet fantastic wish fulfilment.
As a filmmaker, it’s the kind of script you hear about that makes you want to give up on writing altogether and just leave it to the “real” professionals. And then, when you see it’s coming from British rom-com king Richard Curtis and Oscar-winning director extraordinaire Danny Boyle, you either have to decide to hate it immediately sight unseen or resign yourself to the fact it will be your favourite film of all-time. I opted for the latter, racing to the cinema on opening day. And then, well, the fantasy became reality. And reality can never really live up to our imagination, can it?
I think you would have appreciated Yesterday. It’s a fawning tribute to the music you helped create, and a completely sideways approach for how to appreciate it. By taking you and the other Beatles out of the story of your songs, the film creates an intoxicating thought experiment about how people would connect to the same lyrics and melodies without the original authors; those shaggy haired kids from Liverpool who struck lighting in terms of time and place, and then continued to create thunderous hits for years, breaking every record known to music along the way. What if the only custodian of those songs 50 years later was a sheepish English guitar player of Indian descent? It’s a wormhole that’s only lightly travelled, opting instead to focus on an unconvincing romance that threatens to derail everything.
Well, I don’t actually think the film is making a commentary on you and Yoko (who, it should be said, has done a rather outstanding job of upholding your legacy). Instead, the film just wants to enjoy the simple pleasures of playing Beatles music loudly without being forced to “Carry That Weight” of portraying a rise from nothing, excessive drug use, personal betrayal and professional redemption that is the 4/4 time signature to every musical biography. This movie is designed to let us dream bigger, which is both a strength and then ultimately the film’s weakness. Yesterday tries to hit the benchmarks of a rom-com, but instead of being buoyed by the Beatles music, it is strangely forced to play against it. Putting the main character in a position where he seemingly has to choose between the two, when it seems perfectly possible to have both.
Again, I swear this movie isn’t meant to parallel your life. I’m almost sure of it.
In fact, the whole idea that you and the other Fab Four are excluded from the story has a weird parallel in the film’s credits themselves. Surviving members Paul and Ringo aren’t involved with the film in any official capacity, nor are they even thanked. George is barely given any consideration at all, but you manage to loom a bit larger - albeit in an uncredited way (though more deliberately). But the way you are included is just one more melancholic “what could have been” possibility added on to a film that’s already full of them.
Still, hard to not enjoy the film overall, so I should just let it be.