Thursday, 4 July 2019

Review: Yesterday (part two, with spoilers)

Yesterday (part two of two, SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 116 mins / Dir. Danny Boyle / Trailer

This is part two of my Yesterday review, and it contains spoilers. If you haven't seen the film yet and you're just wondering whether you should/shouldn't bother (you should), you can read part one here. Under the normal run of things, this would be what I call a second-pass review, hopefully picking up new notes and observations from a repeat screening. This time however, it's more a list of things I noticed the first time round, wanted to confirm with a second viewing and couldn't include in a spoiler-free review anyway.

Before I begin this laundry-list of complaints, I should point out again that I unironically, unreservedly, unapologetically love Yesterday. It's twee, it's corny, it's got people in it who I don't like and parts of the film just don't work on a logical level, but I don't care. The phrase 'feel-good' is often used to damn with faint praise, but on this occasion I can think of no greater compliment. Yesterday is glorious.

It's just that, erm...

Well it doesn't work, does it? The premise I mean, or particularly its execution. Now I've seen various reviews and articles describe the setup as Jack waking up from his accident to a world where no one remembers The Beatles (including one of the film's own posters, alarmingly). That's not what happens here. Jack wakes up to a world where The Beatles never existed, and there's a massive narrative difference between the two. This isn't a case of global amnesia, the recognised timeline has been altered at some point in the past, then Jack is re-inserted at the juncture point with only memories of the now-alternate reality. If anything, this is an extension of the mechanics explored in Richard Curtis' earlier piece, About Time.

And true to form, Curtis (and to a lesser extent the co-writer of the story, if not the screenplay, Jack Barth) displays a grasp of causality every bit as firm as his one on time travel*1. In the words of Red Dwarf's Holly, "there's no such thing as small" when it comes to changing time. And removing one of the most influential cultural phenomena to ever exist then spinning forward half a century isn't even meant to be small. So let's dive in...


It starts with Oasis. Shortly after realising that no one has any knowledge of The Beatles, Jack decides to check his record collection and sure enough, those discs have disappeared. So the next stop is Google and sure enough, there's no trace of the band on the internet either. Jack begins looking for other artists, to see how widespread the problem is. Bowie, yes. The Stones, yes. And there's a Fratellis poster still on his bedroom wall. But Oasis have disappeared. It's well documented that the Mancunian band were heavily influenced by The Beatles, so Jack sighs and looks at his computer monitor. "Yeah, that figures", he mumbles. Good joke. Everybody laugh.

But we've already seen a flashback of the time that Jack first impressed Ellie at a school concert in 2004, as the youngster played a cover version of Wonderwall by... Oasis. So without the existence of The Beatles and therefore Oasis, Jack wouldn't have played Wonderwall at the gig. He'd have played something else of course, and evidently it still created the pan-dimensional bond with Ellie. But what song was it instead? Why wouldn't this be the next question to pop into Jack's mind? Why doesn't he pick this up with Ellie and ask her details about the concert he can't now remember properly? When Jack's busy in L.A. plagiarising The Beatles in the recording studio, why doesn't he throw a couple of Oasis songs in there, too?

Surely a movie which centers around the enduring legacy of The Beatles should show that their influence spreads throughout pretty much everything which followed in popular music, to some level. Even bands who don't attempt to ape the sound or song structure are aware of The Beatles work, sometimes avoiding those tropes for the same reason as others tribute them. The musical landscape of 2019 would be unrecognisable if The Beatles hadn't formed.


And it's not just the music itself. Countless people have met, bonded, loved and even fought over the some of the greatest songs of the 20th century. The reality that Jack snaps into after his accident would be massively different all over, and there's a fair chance that the people he knew - if they even existed in the new timeline - wouldn't recognise him. To assume that in the absence of The Beatles everything else would continue bimbling along but with a different soundtrack completely undercuts the point of the narrative. If anything, it shows the world is essentially no different for their loss.

And yet there are some bizarre offshoots which get raised. Jack repeatedly asks for Coca Cola and Coke, and no one has a clue what he's on about. Pepsi still exists in this new timeline, but not Coke. We never get to the bottom of this. The implication (since it's not explored) is that a knock-on effect from no Beatles is that Coca Cola has gone, too. But Coca Cola first appeared in 1886, some 54 years before the eldest band members were even born. So are we to believe that The Coca Cola Corporation went bust because the song 'Come Together' was never written and their product didn't get a mention? That was a throwaway line, not an advertisment. The Beach Boys made a reference to the drink too (five years earlier), and Elvis did an actual product placement run in '77. I think Coke were doing alright without the Fab Four.

Then there's the cigarette moment. Apparently in the altered universe, cigarettes either don't exist or just aren't called cigarettes. This all happens in under a minute, also isn't properly explored, then is never referred to again. But the term was coined in 1830, in the French town of the same name. So is the implication that without John, Paul, George and Ringo, the habit died out in the 1960s and now nobody even remembers cigarettes? Well no, because Jack's Google search would have brought up their history until that point. Instead it returns only the name of the town.

Which leads me to believe that something much bigger has changed further back in time, and The Beatles are casualty of this ripple in exactly the same way as fags and Coke. None of this is delved into of course, because we're here for the music*2


Or at least we are until Curtis and Barth realise that because they haven't properly explained their alternate world and certainly not the actual cause of the rift, there's no way to reset the glitch. The Beatles can't suddenly pop back into existence, because then either everybody's got to suddenly remember them again or everybody's got to magically forget that Jack became famous with their songs. And if Jack pops back into his own timeline then the whole film has been for nothing. So if the previous order isn't restored, the story doesn't have a proper ending.

Instead, Jack makes his confession to a Wembley Stadium full of people with precisely zero of a million questions from everyone afterward, and apparently also not having the arse sued off him by the record company with whom, at that point, he has definitely signed a contract which he voided in a very public fashion. He just goes back into teaching, having dumped a load of tracks on the internet which he intends not to capitalise upon, meaning the record company will claim copyright on the songs themselves anyway since these mythical 'original authors' are nowhere to be found. Great work, Jack.

So because the music-story doesn't end properly, Jack and Ellie's tale just sort of peters out too, lacking the emotional wallop it really deserves after two hours. There's the impression that a lot more is said between them, all off-screen, but by that point the editor has one eye on the credits sequence and the run-time already submitted to the BBFC.

Overall, Yesterday feels like its most interesting aspect has been glossed over to make way for the rom-com, and it feels like the rom-com has been glossed over to facilitate the soundtrack, and it feels like the soundtrack has been hobbled by cramming in too many songs for the film's running time.

And somehow none of that matters, I still absolutely love it…*3

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
About Time.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
This will be a high water-mark on everyone's CV for some time to come.
Yes, even Ed's

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
If you start dissing it, that's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: I'm sticking with Young Lando. Go on, change my mind.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And much like the retort to any nitpicking of time travel movies, saying "Oh but it's all fictional so it doesn't matter" is not a defence for sloppy writing. The story has to work internally, because if the logic is irrelevant then so are the characters, so is the emotion, and so is the reason for paying £10 to sit in a dark room for two hours watching it. [ BACK ]

*2 Well snippets of the music, as previously noted. I'll go on record now as saying I would happily watch a three-hour cut of this film where each song is played in full rather than clipped out, much like Inside Llewyn Davis and Sing Street. In fact, let's make that a four hour version if someone could throw in a proper deconstruction of the timeline, too. [ BACK ]

*3 And I dread to think what kind of hits this post is going to get by using 'Leather Arse' as the last crossheader, but there we go! [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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