Yesterday (2019): The Best Beatles Movie
The movie about the music we need
Paul likes to start his shows on time.
On average, his concerts start no later than 10 minutes after the scheduled time on your ticket. There’s no opening act, there isn’t even any music playing on the speakers until 15 minutes before he comes on stage.
So we decided that we also needed to be punctual. We arrived just before the gate time to see his Got Back tour stop at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Two hours to hit up the merch stand, get our wristbands, grab a couple of drinks, pee one last time, find our seats and settle in.
It only took us an hour. So we waited, something we had no problem doing. We weren’t going to miss a thing.
His show is electric. Sir Paul McCartney is 80 years old and still puts on a three-hour show where he doesn’t stop once, plays seven instruments, and plays over 35 songs.
It was a show I’ll never forget.
But aside from Paul’s Energizer Bunny impression, one other thing stood out to me — a comment made in the line that wrapped around the ballpark. We were chatting with a couple in front of us, talking about Paul, Ringo, The Doobie Brothers, RFK Stadium, just anything. And this white lady behind us butted in, “Yeah, this is the oldest and whitest audience I’ve ever seen.”
First of all, I wasn’t talking to you, lady. Second of all, he catapulted to fame as a member of a British pop group in the early 60s. His demographic was long determined. Even then, we could talk about how their inspirations and collaborations throughly changed them by the late 60s — but we won’t.
I also just found it…misleading?
I, a white man, don’t need to point out that there were people at the show who didn’t look like me — there were. But I can say that there were young people there — my girlfriend and I are in our 20s.
It also struck me because that morning we watched Yesterday, Danny Boyle’s 2019 film about an aspiring musician who gets hit by a bus and wakes up in a world just like his own, except The Beatles never existed. You can guess what happens next. Or you’ve probably seen the movie by now.
And I decided that morning that it was the best Beatles movie.
You could pick either of the two movies The Beatles starred in: A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for its young Beatle slapstick or Help! (1965) for the impact it had on the way bands use the medium. Maybe Yellow Submarine (1968) for the way it captures, despite using replacement actors, the band’s silliness.
It’s hard to deny the power of Peter Jackson’s eight-hour doc Get Back (2021) as it gives us a look into their process like no other.
Even some of the fictional movies, like I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) for the way it recreates Beatlemania! or Across the Universe (2007), which shows the way countless artists have been inspired by the group.
There are a dozen other options.
But I’m choosing Yesterday despite its universal “meh” response.
I understand that the film is flawed, let’s get that out of the way. On top of the fact that it takes more than the average amount of belief suspension, the Ed Sheeran to Ana De Armas ratio is criminally lopsided, the Cordens and McKinnons poo a little too much on the sentimentality, and the fact that it sets up a “Wonderwall” joke that it never finishes is a complete breach of trust between filmmaker and audience. I recognize these flaws.
But there’s something about it that just feels right to me: the passion and love the movie has for the music of The Beatles.
There’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through the film that always gets me a little choked up. After deciding to launch his tour with his own rooftop concert, Himesh Patel’s Jack (who is notably charming in the film; he has a lovely voice) is visited by two people who have been following his rise to fame. They’ve been spying on him, investigating him, and we’re led to believe that they are suspicious of his songs and may expose him.
It’s a defining moment in the film. His rise to fame is all over, they’re going to tell the whole world that he’s stolen from a band no one knows.
Instead, they hug him. This unlikely duo, a British woman and a Russian man, are so thrilled that someone else remembers and can bring the music back. They’re not musicians and can’t remember some of the craziest lyrics nearly as well as Jack can, so they’re just grateful he’s giving the world this music.
“A world without the Beatles,” says the Liverpool Stranger, “is a world that’s infinitely worse.”
It gets me every time.
The world needs this music. What would we do without it?
It’s a film that can only exist because legacies need time to develop.
When Beatles records were burning in bonfires, their legacy was in question. Who would have known that I would be writing this right now? When Baby George would run away from the band or when Lennon was assassinated, there was no reason to believe the band was eternal. But as Paul’s voice has given out and Ringo has turned his focus to celebrating other artists’ careers, one thing has always endured: the music.
Everyone loves their music and if you say you don’t, you’re lying.
There is no band in the history of popular music to combine humor, sentimentality, love of love, psychedelia, progressive musicianship, musical styles, inspirations, and output in the way that The Beatles did. Maybe some groups did it for a hot minute and maybe some did it for a while longer, but no one did it with the same level of success and lasting impact.
Visit the spots in Liverpool, or see their Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, or see Paul sell out the Tokyo Dome (or see him with me in Baltimore) and see how their impact is still felt worldwide more than five decades after their breakup. Yesterday grossed over $150 million with more than half of that coming outside of North America. People spent more time with The Beatles over Thanksgiving weekend 2021 than they did with their families as they watched all eight hours of Get Back.
Their impact is still international, their music still a permanent fixture of LP spins and Spotify plays.
And Yesterday understands that. When the people in the film hear that music for the first time, they lose their minds. Jack’s shoulda-coulda-woulda girlfriend Ellie (played by the enchanting Lily James) gets choked up when she hears the title song.
“What the hell was that?” she squeaks out.
We’ve taken these songs for granted and the movie recognizes that like no other. It’s a film that needed time and distance to exist. We had to fall in and out of love with the Beatles, cross into a new millennium, and rediscover that love — and that’s exactly how it goes down in the movie.
As much as some may pretend the legacy of the band is in the bands in which they inspired or what they did to popular music, it’s really not. Those things are crucial to the legacy, of course, but when I think of The Beatles I don’t think of Oasis, I think of Yellow Submarines and Octopus’s Gardens and Helter Skelters and Strawberry Fields.
It’s the music that changed music, sure. But because of that, it’s the music that changed our lives.
Yesterday gets that in a way that Ringo skiing down a mountain (Help!) or Julie Taymor doing her best Julie Taymor (Across the Universe) never would be able to.
It’s a movie about the songs.
So, to the lady in line behind me at Paul’s show — maybe that Camden crowd was old and white. So are you, by the way. But you bought a ticket, and you should understand that this is music we feel in our bones. In our hearts and in our souls.
It’s music we can’t live without.
It’s the music Yesterday celebrates with love and vibrancy and rich emotions and silly jokes. All of the things that made The Beatles their own — all of the things that make them The Beatles.
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