Yesterday is a good movie!

I saw Yesterday yesterday. You will be shocked to learn that I really liked it.

I have some nitpicks. Lily James is lovely and charming, but she’s playing the same sweet innocent she was in Baby Driver. I hope she gets a chance to extend her range a bit. The premise of the movie is that everyone in the world except for a scattered few completely forget the existence of the Beatles — those few have basically found themselves in a timeline where the band The Beatles never existed. The protagonist, Jack Malik, is a musician who becomes famous for simply recalling and replaying Beatles songs as if he were creating them fresh. This had me wondering…would Beatles songs be as popular and appreciated if they were removed from their social and historical context? Could just any old random person have achieved the heights of fame if they’d composed “Hey, Jude” out of thin air, with no foundation or build-up to the populace?

OK, a more pressing concern: is Ed Sheeran really that popular a starmaker? He’s played up as a fabulous rock star in the movie, and I can’t think of a single song he’s done.

Kate McKinnon was a cartoonish, over-the-top villain, and I cringed every time she was in a scene. She may be a good comedian, but she’s an awful actor, and it didn’t help that she was given a role that demanded she practically twirl an imaginary mustache and cackle.

Those are minor nits. What appealed to me most is that this is an original movie that doesn’t depend on anyone putting on Spandex and punching bad guys — nothing is resolved with violence. It was so refreshing. There was a constant build-up of tension, and how could there not be? It’s about an artist who is aware that he’s using other people’s creativity (even if those other people don’t exist in this timeline), and he’s wracked with doubts. He discovers there are others like him who remember the Beatles, and there is a confrontation…and it doesn’t turn out like I expected at all. All of these situations are dealt with in a very human way.

Also, slight spoiler ahead…

The Beatles may not have existed, but the people who made up the Beatles did. There’s an affecting moment where Jack meets a 78 year old John Lennon who was not assassinated, but instead lived a contented life as an artist. Not a famous artist, but just a person who married for love and created for his own self. I almost cried. I remember where I was when Lennon was murdered, and it was a dreadful shock, so to imagine the idea of him living (and not being spoiled with fame — he was sometimes a real jerk) was powerful.

So…nice movie. Interesting and different. Good music. Unique premise. It was wonderful to see an optimistic movie that wasn’t about unrelateable battlin’ superheroes.


  1. cartomancer says

    I think it was a cultural and historical thing. As far as English people go, my generation (or, at least, all my friends, of whom, admittedly, there are only a handful), now in our 30s, tends to regard the Beatles as that nasal, irritating, old people music our parents liked. As for the band members themselves, we know Ringo Starr as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine, Paul McCartney as the weird old man married to the vegan ready meals lady with one leg, and John Lennon as somebody who died long before we were born, and whose name sounds like the first leader of the Soviet Union. I only found out there was another one a few years ago, and for the life of me I can’t remember what he was called.

  2. Dunc says

    He was called George Harrison, and he was arguably the best of all of them. Then, of course, there was also George Martin…

  3. cartomancer says

    Yes, I know I could go and look it up – my point was that the ins and outs of the band’s personal lives are so irrelevant to my generation that I can’t even remember all their names.

    I’m now going to go and look up this George Martin fellow. It’s not the Game of Thrones guy I’m guessing?

  4. says

    I think the Beatles were geniuses, but that’s all colored by the context.

    Of course, this is also a degenerate age. People of your generation had to settle for Oasis.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    would Beatles songs be as popular and appreciated if they were removed from their social and historical context?

    Most wouldn’t, some would. “Penny Lane”, “The Fool on the Hill”, “Norwegian Wood”,…I think they’d make some Youtuber an instant hit.

  6. cartomancer says

    Oh, Oasis were for those achingly cool people a few years older than me who went to parties and talked to girls. I mostly listened to cheesy teen pop like Hansen and Tatu, video game soundtracks imported from Japan, Gregorian chants and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

    The best music was 14th Century music, no question!

  7. acroyear says

    The issue, perhaps, is that so many other artists did what THEY were doing as a reaction to the Beatles. Either some went more hard rock (The Who), or some became clones. Then there’s the race of production values between The Beatles and Brian Wilson’s pushing of the Beach Boys leading up to Pet Sounds. That wouldn’t have happened if the Beatles and George Martin weren’t pushing production values to the absolute limit, album after album.

    That same push for production values is what made the progressive rock era even possible. King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd. They never could have happened the way they did without the studio developments the Beatles and Martin pioneered. Sure, somebody would have, but it would have been later, and the knock-on effects would have changed music considerably, particularly if it meant certain things didn’t happen in the time they did…because the reaction to THOSE events etc etc…e.g, late 70s Punk was a reaction to the excesses of progressive and arena rock, which were dependent on the Beatles raising the level of musicality and the level of production. British New Wave in the early 80s was a reaction to punk. The sequencer work pioneered by British New Wave led to a whole bunch of things in the late 80s.

    So take one piece of that chain out, especially the root piece, and the whole history of pop and rock music falls apart. Some things may still happen, but they won’t happen when they did, by the people that did it.

    So any of these “if X didn’t exist but everything else did” type of hypotheticals always strike me as being useless.

    The Beatles and their influence on everything that came after was more than just their songs.

  8. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Musical success is hugely dependant on good fortune. You can write beautiful, meaningful songs and never reach the heights of the Beatles because of accidents timing and circumstance.

    In the 90’s I shared stages and practice spaces with folks of immense talent, and folks with the focus, drive, and ambition to support that talent. Of those hundreds of people only one could be said to have had success outside of a local audience.

    Add to that the fact that you cannot remove context from the purely subjective experience that is artistic appreciation and the best you could reasonably say about Beatles songs reaching a similar audience under the circumstances of this movie is: possible, but unlikely.

  9. Larry says

    Growing up when I did, the Beatles were such a major cultural influence during the 6 short years they performed, they, their music, and even their films have become so deeply ingrained in me, it is nearly impossible to speculate what it may have been like had they never existed. Its like wondering what the world would be like without the color blue. Even more is to wonder what the state of popular music would be had musicians not had access to their ideas and their limitless creativity. Even though current generations may not care for their sound, lyrics, and music, I believe that they still must acknowledge that the influence of the group still resonates throughout the music world 50 years after they broke up.

  10. ethicsgradient says

    I don’t think he’s anything special, but Sheeran’s success is undeniable:

    Sheeran has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling music artists.[6] Two of his albums are in the list of the best-selling albums in UK chart history: x at number 20, and ÷ at number 34. Beginning in March 2017, his ÷ Tour is the highest-grossing of all time by a solo artist.

    On 4 December, Sheeran was named Spotify’s most streamed artist of 2017 with 6.3 billion streams.

  11. anthrosciguy says

    There was a Brit comedy series, Goodnight Sweetheart, with a guy who time traveled back and forth between WWII London and then-modernday London. When back in the past he’d regale people at the pub with some of his self-penned songs, which were Beatles songs. Especially, of course, those leaning toward music hall style. They all thought he was really talented. He supported himself and his wife (and also his girlfriend in the past) with the proceeds from his store selling WWII memorabilia, which he had a steady supply of.

  12. says

    To add to ethicsgradient’s post, I don’t know of any artist that has Ed Sheeran’s broad appeal. My 78 year old mother in law likes him and some of the grimiest young ruffians I know like him. Not my thing but, having done some of his at karaoke, he’s a damn fine songwriter.

  13. PaulBC says

    cartomancer@1 The fourth one was George Harrison. I felt a little guilty after he died when I was listening to Terri Gross (Fresh Air) on NPR and thought “They’ve had some really good interviews this week. Beatles ought to died more often.” OK, I didn’t quite verbalize that thought.

    The Beatles were a big part of my early childhood soundtrack (having split up around the time I was in kindergarten, but I have a bunch of older siblings). I too find boomer nostalgia annoying, but I also have to admit that anything recorded after 1990 is “new” music to me. That band 10,000 Maniacs, yeah they show some promise. The kids have been telling me that. It’s called getting old and I realize not everyone suffers to the same extent.

    There’s also the music my father listened to, like Billie Holiday. That’s worth another listen today. I started listening to Artie Shaw when my son was taking clarinet for school, but I couldn’t interest him. I like it, but not as much as the music I really like. I actually don’t like the Beatles as much as I once did. I prefer some other 60s band, such as the Byrds, but it is harder to find people who care about them. (The jangle pop sound does something directly to my brain.) Fortunately, I have kids who are a captive audience in the car.

    On the general subject of movies inspired by pop musicians, I thought about seeing Rocketman but did not. Any opinions? I saw the trailer for Blinded By the Light recently and it looked interesting too. I have not seen Yesterday.

  14. says

    Rocketman was good, but had a very weird narrative structure. It’s one I’d have to see again to figure out if I liked it.

  15. PaulBC says

    It was wonderful to see an optimistic movie that wasn’t about unrelateable battlin’ superheroes.

    Unrelateable to you, maybe, you frickin’ non-superior mundane.

    After seeing the most recent Spiderman, I started to wonder if the only thing left that unites Americans is MCU.

  16. PaulBC says

    “Rocketman was good, but had a very weird narrative structure. It’s one I’d have to see again to figure out if I liked it.”

    Weirder than Moulin Rouge? (which also had Elton John lyrics among other things) I didn’t mind the narrative structure, but I initially just thought it was kind of cheap to build a movie on pop lyrics. I’ve changed since then and would like to see more pop-music fantasies whatever that might entail.

  17. wzrd1 says

    I consider the context of the film and frankly, such a scenario isn’t something I could consider likely.
    After all, would the Beatles have really become popular without Bert the Turtle and similar programs of the previous decade?

  18. says

    I saw it yestermonth and couldn’t escape the feeling that within the reality of the movie he was a schizophrenic genius who merely imagined that the songs he composed were ones he thought he was remembering from a band he made up.
    And of course there were ‘weirdos’ who would go along with his delusion.
    Outside the reality of the movie I loved the John Lennon scene: tranquillity and happiness on a Suffolk Beach. Ah! What more could a man need.

  19. consciousness razor says


    This had me wondering…would Beatles songs be as popular and appreciated if they were removed from their social and historical context?

    Well, I suppose not, but isn’t this sort of asking “would they be as popular if they were not as popular?”

    Could just any old random person have achieved the heights of fame if they’d composed “Hey, Jude” out of thin air, with no foundation or build-up to the populace?

    That’s a little clearer…. Probably not the very same heights, although I wouldn’t say it can’t happen. Writing a good song like that is hard enough, but it’s also not easy to be heard.
    Of course, that specific song required a big fancy studio and a small orchestra, not just Paul’s brain or whatever. So we’re talking about a large investment of time and resources from a lot of people. There is no place where obscure musicians can get all of that, with the only condition being that they have an unfinished sketch of a song which looks sort of interesting….
    Maybe this will help you suspend your disbelief. That movie happened in a fictional world where people support the arts. So it all makes sense there, because it’s a very different place. For instance, bizarro-CR didn’t wake up once again this morning (that morning?) with a sharp pain in his back which is still making him irritable. Also, Trump is serving time for tax evasion, and President Jaco Pastorius is alive and well, still playing on special occasions, along with UN ambassador Yo-Yo Ma.

    The best music was 14th Century music, no question!

    Poor guy. This one’s just for you.

  20. Pierce R. Butler says

    … everyone in the world except for a scattered few completely forget the existence of the Beatles …

    Sounds like an inversion of Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection (1967 Nebula winner) about a future in which the Beatles have reached mythical status – especially Ringo (“the silent one”), whose Orpheus-like quest informs every aspect of culture.

  21. says

    Probably the ultimate example of what acroyear is talking about is the Rolling Stones. Without the Beatles Andrew Loog Oldham, assuming he actually hooks up with them at all, wouldn’t have strong armed Jagger and Richards into songwriting. So even if they get signed they probably fade out pretty quickly because they stick to blues and Chuck Berry covers.

  22. Michael says

    I thought the film was cute, but a bit cliched in the way they ended the song plot. I was surprised that unlike most other alternative reality movies, things don’t go back to the way they were before at the end.
    Minor spoiler, the Beatles weren’t the only thing missing from this alternate world. I would love to live in a world without cigarettes!

  23. starfleetdude says

    I saw the movie tonight and enjoyed it for being a modest love story with a fantastic premise. I don’t doubt that Ed Sheeran feels like Salieri to the Beatles’ Mozart. Who wouldn’t?

    As for the songs being singularly great, of course they are. My own first experience of the Beatles was their Red and Blue greatest hits albums and they were astoundingly good to me, even though I missed the 60s Beatlemania. They still sound wonderful, even as covers done in a movie. Sometimes a great song is… a great song.

  24. johnlee says

    1980, one morning, just a few weeks after my 17th birthday, I woke up as usual and put the radio on.


    “Radio 4 playing John Lennon?” I said to myself. “That’s odd.” As soon as it had finished, there was another Lennon song, and I knew something had happened.

    A sad, sad day.

    The meeting with old Mr Lennon in the movie was really rather wonderful.

  25. DanDare says

    Also saw this Yestermonth with family. We all loved it. I especially liked (spoiler alert !!!!!) That it doesn’t reset with “it was only a dream”. The world goes on in its altered state.
    My 23 year old daughter has now added the Beatles to her most loved collection.