The premise behind Yesterday is so preposterous because one cannot simply erase The Beatles from existence and expect those same songs to become hits in 2019.
I’ve touched on the film in my review published last month during the 2019 Chicago Critics Film Festival. However, there are things that I didn’t say last month. I’m going to dive into some of this right now. The cultural context of these songs are a factor in why they became hits. Ed Sheeran himself has said that The Beatles are one of his inspirations. We wouldn’t know this from watching the film. There are no attempts at changing his musical style. Why is this? It’s a major problem as far as the nature of the film is concerned. I get Oasis never forming but the film doesn’t even bother to explain why The Beatles not existing would lead to Coca-Cola not being a thing or Harry Potter never being written. I have zero problem with the latter for what it’s worth. Coke would become a trademark in 1941!
It goes without saying that I’m a big fan of The Beatles. I’m a child of the 1980s so I never got to see them perform in the 1960s. In 2011, I was honored to be in the presence of Sir Paul McCartney during his U.S. tour. When it comes to the greatest rock band of all time, I’m one who takes in as many films, documentaries, and television appearances as possible. That’s why this idea of a world without The Beatles was enough to pique my interest. Unfortunately, it fell quite short for me and not just because taking the film into romantic comedy territory.
I have nothing against the covers performed in the film. Some choices are certainly questionable such as the decision to include “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Do The Beach Boys still exist in the Yesterday universe? What about Chuck Berry? I emphasize this because that song was written as a parody of both Berry and The Beach Boys. As you can imagine, this song did not particularly sit well upon its release. Anyway, McCartney spoke about the song during a 1984 interview with Playboy.
I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And Back in the U.S.A. was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there. I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know? It was also hands across the water, which I’m still conscious of. ‘Cause they like us out there, even though the bosses in the Kremlin may not. The kids do. And that to me is very important for the future of the race.
This is just one song that appears in the film. But again, it’s a song that doesn’t have the same reason for existing if it’s taken out of the 1960s. The context for just plucking the film into 2019 just isn’t there. I get that Jack Malik wants to bring all The Beatles’ music back into the world. A world without The Beatles isn’t a great world at all. I’ll give you that right there. This is where I would suggest reading Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and The Sixties by Ian MacDonald.
Take a look at their late 1960s work. The Beatles would record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a direct result of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. There’s a domino effect here because Pet Sounds was recorded directly as a result of Rubber Soul.
If you take The Beatles away from history, it can’t be done without serious ramifications. This is why Yesterday‘s problems are here to stay.