Rocky: Ah, Jodie. You've known me a few years. You've read some of my tales. You published my article on the psychology of a fiction writer. So, you know I have acquaintance with the world of fantasy.
Yesterday is a fantasy. A version of it many people have, me included.
I'll get to the acting, writing, and directing in a second, but first I want to respond as an audience member. Some at my viewing enjoyed it. A couple heading out of the theatre muttered things about "delusions" and "not living in the real world" and "disrespecting The Beatles."
The story itself is not real. It is delusional. It is a story that an underdog might dream. But for me, that did not take away from its entertainment value. Movies serve many purposes, but escapism is certainly one of those. And, as one who has written songs the world has never heard, I escaped into Jack's success.
Jodie: Well Rocky, I certainly agree with you, Yesterday is a fantasy. But it got me thinking about the lure of fame and the oft-quoted advice, ‘Be careful what you wish for’. With the current state of society and the role of social media in instant gratification and increased reach, also relatively instantaneous, it isn’t a surprise that there’s been a lot of research into the psychology of fame and that’s an angle I’d like to focus on in this review.
Rocky: You know stories, Jodie, the many ways they can be constructed. This one, I am happy to say, is based on the classic question, "What if …?" Yesterday asks that question. What if one of the great musical groups of the twentieth century never existed, but their songs lived in the mind of one poor player who, in the words of Shakespeare, "struts and frets his hour upon the state and then is heard no more." Such is the fate of Jack Malik, well and sympathetically played by Himesh Patel.
Jack is heard no more until he plays the song Yesterday for his friends as a fond farewell to show business. They love it, but when Jack explains that it is a song by The Beatles, no one, not a single soul, has heard of them … or the song.
From here, the "what if" is predictable. He has a "manager," a longtime childhood friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James, in a lovely performance) who teaches math by day. Of course, he is in love with her, has been forever, but has never been able to summon the courage to tell her. Of course, we can tell that she certainly wants him to. Which begs the question, aren't we in an age where a woman can initiate these things, rather than saying, "I've waited twenty years for you, and you blew it, sport?" Just a question.
Predictable, Jodie, and a tad old fashioned.
Jodie: It’s this relationship Rocky that highlights my observations.
Much research likens fame to a high, one which is highly addictive. Like any high, the lure is very attractive, it feels good, and after experiencing it, it’s natural to want that feeling again, and again, and again. It can get to the point where the high consumes our thoughts and then our behaviours and of course, a tolerance builds, requiring more and more and more to get the same feeling. In the constant pursuit of that high, relationships can be abandoned, other responsibilities in life forgotten or left behind… loss and change in exchange for the bright lights.
Jack had been plugging away for years at pub gigs, no one except his friends really ever listening to his music, but like every artist, he’s motivated to share his art with a wider audience for whatever personally inspires him. If a tree falls in a forest without anyone to witness it, did it truly make a sound?
Jack, on that fateful night, was handed the Beatles’ fame, all in one go! What a dream! Or was it?
Rocky: But still enjoyable. Harlequin romances are predictable as hell. The reader knows what is coming, just not the how. The how is what stimulates the reader. In Yesterday, the how is what will stimulate the dreamer, because I just can't see pragmatists or realists enjoying this movie, unless it is for the timeless music of The Beatles. Most everyone will enjoy that, and maybe his encounter with the man who helps him see the light.
Jodie, I think dreamers are who this movie is for. In the way of Field of Dreams.
I am a dreamer.
The "how" in this case is predictable, but well done. I enjoyed the two different fantasies. The first dealing with drinking from the chalice of fame and fortune is rags to riches. The second concerning Jack plucking up the courage to tell Ellie that he loves her is classic shy guy feeling less-than. I thought the latter sequences suffered a little in the editing (or maybe it was the writing or directing), but the relationship was still there.
Jodie: It is classic and it is predictable, but in keeping with my argument, it wasn’t until Jack lost Ellie that he realized he loved her. As he toured the world, as he recorded records, after he left her back in their hometown teaching teenagers, he realized the emptiness of his pursuits.
The guilt, his imposter syndrome, the constant fear of being found out all served as his Damocles’ Swords. The further his fame developed, the less joy or high he felt.
Rocky: Adding spice to the sauce is the wonderful Ed Sheeran playing himself. His presence in the movie is not a cameo like Dustin Hoffman's was in The Holiday. Ed Sheeran is an actor playing Ed Sheeran, a major music star, just like the great director Cecil B. DeMille played himself in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. And I never would have believed that a star of Sheeran's magnitude would portray himself the way he did. Stars of any age are so image conscious. Always have been. Always will be. This role did not lend itself to propelling his public image from demi-god to godlike status, though he is sympathetic.
I applaud him for it.
Yesterday is not a brilliant movie, but it wasn't trying to be. I enjoyed what the cast and crew brought to the screen and liked it for what it was; a fantasy in the tradition of James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Jodie: I absolutely adored The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. That film was life changing for me, so I’m devastated that you’ve compared it to Yesterday. It wasn’t a brilliant movie, I agree. I almost fell asleep. I have to say, I was in a really comfortable theatre recliner though! I enjoyed Jack’s voice. I’m glad fame wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I liked that the two people allowed him to continue to share the Beatle’s music with the world, because it was all about the music afterall.
I felt sorry for Jack, coming down from his high. Adjusting his life to suit his overnight fame, the losses of his relationships, the guilt, the highs and the lows.
Rocky: It's a feel-good movie.
Oh, Jodie. I found myself mentally yelling at the screen "You fool! Tell her you love her." I've been that fool once or twice (or three times). That was the defining moment for me, the one shouting that the script was occasionally uneven and cliché, the directing not particularly inspired, and a couple of characters were a bit too melodramatic, even for a fantasy, but I still enjoyed it.
I felt good.
I'm giving this a 6 1/2 out of 10. Dreamers will like it. Others may be checking their watches the last forty minutes or so.
Both would be valid reactions.
What do you think, Jodie?
Jodie: I agree with you Rocky. A 6.5/10. I was checking my watch. I was trying not to fall asleep. I had high hopes. They weren’t satisfied. That would’ve been a better Netflix on a rainy day kind of movie for me.