Wednesday, July 10, 2019

YESTERDAY -- my review

YESTERDAY imagines a world where only one person knew of the existence of the Beatles and took ownership of their songs as if he had written them. I wonder how many Millennials watching this movie DON’T know the existence of the Beatles.

These are all new songs to them. In the movie, Himesh Patel as failed street musician Jack Malik, becomes a megastar and the Lennon-McCartney songbook is universally recognized by the new audience as genius. They are, of course, but what about to virgin ears? Would kids today be blown away hearing “Yesterday” or “In My Life” or “The Long and Winding Road” for the first time? I’d say there’s a good chance. But what about “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There?” Did these early Beatles songs strike a chord because they were part of the Beatlemania phenomenon? Their later, more mature work stands a better chance.

And it’s not a hypothetical question per se because I’m sure millions of young adults and teenagers have never heard these songs. So compared to songwriters of their age, speaking directly to them, I wonder whether Beatles songs – even the greatest ones – would be so well received.

Then my follow-up question: Is this subject matter Millennials even WANT to see? Not that the movie can’t be a success regardless. There are enough older adults who do know and revere the Beatles and are just thrilled no one is in a cape to produce robust boxoffice receipts. But I’m curious.

For those, like me, who wanted to see it, it was a fun ride. The music alone is enough to carry you through. And the all-star combination of director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis assures that you’re in very good hands. Besides the tunes, there are some hearty laughs, they do have fun with the crazy premise, and the cast is very winning. Patel is great, love-interest Lily James is suitably adorable, and Ed Sheeran is very believable playing himself. Kate McKinnon also steals some scenes as his new bloodless manager. But I have one concern about Kate McKinnon. I LOVE her on SNL, think she’s a brilliant comedienne, one of the top ten all-time performers on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but I’ve never seen her play “real.” She’s always playing a sketch character – masterfully, but a sketch nonetheless. Such is the case here. She’s funny, but she’s a cartoon. I would love to see her drop all voices and exaggerations and just play a genuine person. I believe she can do it; I just haven’t seen it yet.

High concept romcoms like this used to be a summer staple. Now they’re few and far between. I think I’m just as nostalgic for that as the Beatles music. But I found YESTERDAY immensely enjoyable, charming, funny, and even touching in places. What’s it like to live in a world without the Beatles. Either go see this movie or ask any 8th grader.

46 comments :

Lemuel said...

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE had a similar premise. The Beatles were never mentioned in the movie, but the characters "lived" the songs.

404 said...

Take heart, Ken -- I went to see this mainly because my 12 year old son and all of his 12 year old friends all wanted to see it. Why? Because they love The Beatles. So, I think there is more love for the Fab Four out there among the younger audiences than you realize. They are one of those groups that every generation still seems to discover at some point.

That being said, I also thoroughly enjoyed this movie. My only disappointment was that, I think in "real life" (definitely not the right term to use but I don't know how else to say it) if something like this happened, the resulting world would be radically different. It would change everything, not just people's memories of a band. Culture, style, etc would all be different. Danny Boyle chose not to go there, and that's fine, but I think that would have been even more interesting. Still, this was a good movie and I enjoyed it!

Karan G said...

I've been hearing good things, but will probably wait until it goes to HBO or Netflix. I continue to be amazed at how many young people know little to nothing about The Beatles. There are just some folks that are not interested in anything that came before them. This past weekend I saw Echo In The Canyon. Really impressed with Jakob Dylan. I enjoyed his covers of great songs. Also impressed with how he interviews people. He let other people opine, and did not try to restate or add to their comments. He let their comments stand. I am certainly interested in knowing more about him and his work. Love his dad's work too!

Pat Reeder said...

A lot of young people don't know older artists, but on the other hand, I go to many concerts by artists who've been around for ages, from Paul McCartney and Alice Cooper to Weird Al Yankovic, and I see many young people and even children in the audiences. Working in radio and recording, I've talked to quite a few young people, including my own 'tween nieces, who prefer classic rock. A surprising number have told me that they think most of today's music is awful, and objectively, they're right. About 90% of the hits are written via formula by one of two mega-producers, and everything about them (the vocabulary of the lyrics, dynamic range, number of notes and chords used, compression, etc.) has been dumbed down, reduced and homogenized into an indistinguishable aural goo.

If Millennials and younger don't obsess about music the way earlier generations did, it's not entirely because of competition from video games, the web, etc., but also because the music (at least the commercial, major label stuff) sucks so badly that it doesn't even impress the youth market that it's targeted to.

Anonymous said...

But what is The Beatles best music?
1964-1967
or 1967-1970?

And does it matter which side you put Sgt. Pepper?

Roseann said...

I felt EXACTLY the same way about Kate McKinnon's performance.

VP81955 said...

I think the Beatles' earlier work (I define "earlier" as their touring days up to 1966) will have a bit more staying power as decades go on. Their later recordings are certainly more complex, but in many ways are more of their era, while their 1962-1966 output transcends time. (As a sitcom analogy, the later Beatles' music was "All In The Family," their earlier output "The Mary Tyler Moore Show.") The earlier stuff's lack of pretense ultimately works in its favor.

My favorite Beatles album is the UK "Rubber Soul" (it has 14 tracks, including four not issued on the 12-track North American version), where the Fab Four's increasing musical maturity comes to the forefront.

gottacook said...

Kate McKinnon played quite "real" when she sat at a piano and performed three verses from Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on SNL a few days after the 2016 election. She did so in her Hillary costume, but there was nothing cartoonish about her, and I think that would have been true even if Cohen hadn't just died. (She must have had a premonition of how it would go down, and prepared for weeks for that performance.)

As for the movie, I've not seen it, but a review (in Slate) makes the point that almost all Patel's performances of Beatles songs were accompanied only by guitar, and that the production and arrangement of the original tracks (that is, the work of George Martin and the EMI audio engineers) had a lot to do with their success - that the songs themselves were central but not the only reason for the records becoming hits.

(I'll see the movie at some point, having been a Beatles fan since summer 1964, when all their British hits from the previous 18 months arrived together in the U.S. and occupied virtually the whole top 10, played over the P.A. system at day camp.)

McAlvie said...

Given how little I know of what millennials listen to, I can't criticize their not Knowing much about my generation, I guess. I do think that really good music transcends generations, so Yesterday will be around forever. And while they might not be as sophisticated, songs like I Want to Hold Your Hand are catchy and bouncy and put a smile on your face. Again, I don't know much about contemporary pop/rock; but I suspect IWTHYH is at least as good, if not better, than music millennials are more familiar with. The few millennials in my family are actually pretty music savvy and possibly more sophisticated about it than I am, so no criticisms from me.

Looking forward to seeing the movie. I don't need a movie to be a great cinematic experience; I just want to be entertained and not grossed out, so this looks like a good choice.

Kirk said...

I agree with you that the older songs might fare better because the Beatles were just a bit more idiosyncratic at that point. Though I love it and never tire of hearing it, something early like "She Loves You" sounds somewhat retro now.

david russell said...

Like Roseann above, I wholeheartedly agree about Kate McKinnon. There are a good few funny moments that she delivers but she does play everything like a SNL sketch character, from the exaggerated sneers, to the deliberately drawling voices. It wasn't enough to spoil the movie but it definitely was distracting on occasion (her cartoonish face pressed up against the glass in a scene near the end summed up her performance for me).

blinky said...

Would todays youth like the old Beatles songs?
I remember back in the Beatle era a radio station played the new Beatles song "Kansas City" without saying who the band was. It got a luke warm reception. When they revealed that it was the Beatles it went to number one.
Once they were super stars every song was automatically above average. Even all that crap on Let It Be was loved. Seriously, Dig A Pony???
The Long and Winding Road was the first Wings single if you ask me.

Mike said...

I certainly liked it a lot more than Across The Universe, which to me seemed to disappear up a drug fueled alley.

It was a fun ride, with the side gags about what else had gone fun - and, without spoiling too much, a nicely judged twist...

Gary said...

Ken, I agree with everything you wrote, with one minor quibble: "She Loves You" is the greatest piece of music ever recorded, in the history of mankind. But that's just me.

DBA said...

The answer to the question posed is different is you're talking about "young adults and teenagers" or if you're talking about millenials (who at this point are largely older than that). Even if you are talking millenials, then it begs whose definition? The most common bracket I've seen puts them as born between 1981 and 1996. The earliest starting birth year I've seen in included is 1980, the latest starting year 1986. The earliest end year I've seen is 1986 and the latest end year 1999.

My point is the people born in the 80s absolutely know the Beatles. Among those born in the late 90s, there's a dropoff. Still plenty of people who know and love the Beatles as far as I can tell (although my social circle may be Beatle-skewed), but while with people born in the 80s and earlier you'd be more likely to be gobsmacked to find someone not familiar with the Beatles, that's not the same thing as "most people born in the 90s or later have no idea who the Beatles are". I think plenty know and love them. It's just no longer ubiquitous.

Frank Beans said...

I'm sure the movie is aimed at people born in this century, i.e. Generation Z teens and kids. It sounds like harmless rom-com fluff (I ain't gonna see it in the theater, maybe on DVD while I'm cooking or something) but if it gets some of the young'uns to pursue The Beatles and better music in general, I'm all for it.

Also, how about we get a flame war started about the best Beatles album? I say it's a tie between the The Beatles(The White Album) and Rubber Soul. And also side 2 of Abbey Road. And Revolver, truly groundbreaking. Sergeant Pepper of course is monumental. Also, there's Let It Be, an underrated great album, as well as Magical Mystery Tour. Help isn't bad, as is A Hard Day's Night.

Anyway, it's clear where I stand on this matter.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Unfortunately, it kind of goes both ways. I'm not interested in most newer music. I suppose it's because they're not offering me anything different and/or unique. These current singers, songwriters, bands, etc. may be enthusiastic and passionate about their work, but it's just a rehash of things I've heard before. I can't tell you the number of times I've said to myself, That sounds like Jagger, or Joplin, or Gaye, Franklin, and so on and so on.
Don't even get me started on rap. I have one of the Hip-hop stations on my car radio, just to keep from being completely unversed in the current trends. But, most of it is just awful. There's some "old school" rap I can tolerate, e.g. Public Enemy and NWA. They, at least, had a message. But, most of today's rap is just a mindless drone with very little melody or feeling.
As for the music of my parents' generation, I enjoy Frank and Dean and Bing, Miles, Benny, Duke, etc.

It's amazing how this blog about music parallels so many previous blogs about sitcom writing.

I wonder what would happen if someone tried the same thing with sitcoms. Create a new show based on an old premise hoping that no one would realize that it was done before.
OH, WAIT! THEY ALREADY DO THAT.
Nevermind.
M.B.

Frank Beans said...

Also, regarding Kate McKinnon--some SNL performers translate well to the big screen, some don't. Almost all of the major cast members at least have a shot, sometimes in huge movies, often in forgettable ones. I don't think it's just about talent, but maybe the role doesn't really fit them, the writing could not be their style, or maybe they just need an off-season project and aren't really invested in it, which I suspect is the case here.

Peter said...

Apart from Blackadder II, I cannot stand Richard Curtis. Sorry. I cannot sit through Love, Actually or any of the other puke inducing rubbish he's churned out in a career full of smug, bland, boring and overlong crap lapped up by the British middle class.

Add to that a director who departed the forthcoming Bond movie over creative differences because he and his writer wanted to make it about MeToo and you'd have to pay me a substantial amount of money to watch Yesterday.

James Van Hise said...

I enjoyed it immensely and I hope it has crossover appeal. I'm 69 and when I saw it I don't think anyone else in the theater was much young than me and most were older. I found that interesting because I see a lot of different kinds of movies and generally don't see a lot of older people in your average audience, but this one was different.

Unknown said...

Thanks for clearing up the timeline as to the age-range of millennials. I am a millennial and almost finished with graduate school. I loved this movie, by the way and am familiar with The Beatles. I think Ken’s referring to children and adolescents, maybe?

—Hailey H.

Johnny Hy said...

Loved it and thought they threw a few nice curveballs in there as well with a storyline or two that felt for certain were going to go one way, the cliche way, and the went the other way which was nice as well. The music is great in. Downloaded The Long and Winding Road, Yesterday, Twist and Shout and Can't Buy Me Love as soon as I got home

kitano0 said...

re: Kate McKinnon She's going to be playing Elizabeth Holmes in a movie. She's going to have to drop all those crazy tics to play her. She will probably play her like a robot, which wouldn't be very far off.
Oh, and she was the only saving grace of that terrible Ghostbusters movie...a buddy said that she was like Harpo on mushrooms...

randm said...


Great review, thank you Ken. I've been on the fence about seeing the film but may go see it in the end.

A couple of years ago, I subbed for the music teacher at an elementary school. We had a few minutes at the end of lesson with the 2nd graders so I played a couple of songs for them, one of which was Day Tripper. I remember one of the students hushing the others saying "Quiet! I actually LIKE this song!"

The discussion also reminded me of this video from 2013 "Kids React to the Beatles". They seem to love the band still

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M9US-cXJMo

Freddy Joe said...

I was looking forward to seeing this movie, but ultimately it was very disappointing. I thought in the hands of Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis, we would have a well told story. As much as I loved the premise, the lead character, Jack, had absolutely no drive. He was not going after anything. For 3/4 of the movie, the character is in full reactionary mode. Reacting to the world thinking he's the greatest songwriter that ever lived. Jack only comes to life at the end when he pursues the girl. A more engaging story would have been if Jack, being racked with guilt, actually tries to find Lennon and McCartney and put them together as a writing duo. I don't know... it just needed something.

Michael said...

Friday question: I have seen articles that THE OFFICE is by far the most viewed program on streaming services, but I rarely see it's reruns on broadcast or mainstream cable channels these days - seems like it is relegated to hard-to-find channels like COZI TV. Do you think that this is deliberate to get people to watch it on Netflix or do you think it's repeats failed to draw decent ratings when they were shown on broadcast or mainstream cable channels? Are only 'cord-cutters' interested in watching it?

Buttermilk Sky said...

I'm looking forward to this because I enjoyed Himesh Patel in a British sitcom about social workers called DAMNED. And he sings, too?

I grew up on my parents' records (Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, Count Basie) and came to rock relatively late, so I know about the blank stares you can get from the kids. As the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon said, "Ninety percent of everything is crap," and that's especially true of pop music, ephemeral by its nature. How many Beatles contemporaries are still worth hearing? The best will always be around, just not for everybody.

John in NE Ohio said...

The Beatles essentially ended 50 years ago. So if you want to compare, put your younger self in their shoes. If you are talking about a 20 year old, and you are a Boomer born in 1950, then put yourself in 1970 and think about what music from the 20s you were aware of. Yes, it wasn't rock n roll, but some of it was more similar to the Beatles than the Beatles are to current music. Most of us don't start really broadening our musical horizons until current music isn't what we want to listen to, and we cannot listen to the same 200 songs one more time.

Terry said...

Just to chime in to what others have already said: All is not lost on the younger generation. My 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son actually asked to go see this movie. They are both Beatles fans, especially my daughter. Of course it helps that a good friend of mine is in a Beatles tribute band we've seen perform multiple times.

Gary West said...

Baby Boomers seem to be a little obsessed about younger generations knowing or liking "their" music.

You see it a lot.

Who cares? If a 12-year-old likes the Beatles - that's great. If they've never heard of them - well - it's not their music and that's OK.

We had ours. They have theirs. Sometimes - the world's gel.

DBenson said...

On a visit to Epcot a decade or two ago -- yes, I'm old -- I saw some excellent Beatle impersonators performing in a gazebo in the United Kingdom area. They were outfitted in early Beatle suits but mixed in some of the later music.

There were a number of old boomers like myself, but most of the crowd appeared to be happy young parents bouncing their babies and toddlers to the music. I had the thought that for them, the Beatles were the music of childhood: Catchy and safe-enough tunes from their parents' adolescence, songs the elders knew the words to and probably had some tape cassettes around. Wondered whether they now played the Beatles for their own kids, or were just enjoying a flashback
.

Cap'n Bob said...

Go on YouTube and find The MonaLisa Twins, two lovely young ladies who cover Beatle songs, and other songs from that era. You'll be glad you did.

scottmc said...

My fourteen year old daughter and her 13 year old friend tried to see YESTERDAY this past weekend at a theater in Monticello. The theater was sold out. They were excited to see the movie after seeing the trailer for it when they saw The Sun is Also a Star in the spring. I think my daughter and her friends are a little bit ahead of where I was at their age. When I was their age I didn't warm to the music of my parents. I didn't listen to Sinatra or know the Broadway songbook. I only appreciated and loved that material when I was a little older.

On an unrelated topic, I just saw the MASH episode 'Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler',the one where a wounded pilot thinks he is Jesus. The episode never fails to impress me. The part of the pilot was played by Alan Fudge. Ever since I first saw that episode if I saw Alan Fudge in anything, be it Alfred Hitchcock's last film or an episode of Columbo, I would say to myself 'that's the guy from that episode of MASH.' It is often mentioned that so-and-so had a guest appearance on MASH before becoming a star, but it's also true that the show was excellent in matching the actor with the material.The people responsible for casting were amazing. The MASH episode following 'Captain Chandler' featured future Oscar nominee Ned Beatty but it wasn't the same thing since Beatty had a decent film career going by that point.

John Fox said...

All points well taken, Ken.
Ironically, "Yesterday" finally breaks the jinx of movies that wouldn't have existed without The Beatles ... and shouldn't have anyway. In spite of quality people like Eric Idle and Robert Zemeckis' involvement, movies like "The Rutles" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" were pretty light. And then there's the third one from that same year, 1978 when Hollywood decided baby boomers had reached adulthood and now wanted nostalgia. Unfortunately, their big bet on that was one of the biggest box office mistakes of all time, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Although Earth Wind and Fire knocked it out of the park on "Got to Get You Into My Life", the rest of the movie was indescribably bad and would have sunk the careers of The Bee Gees if they hadn't still been living in the glow from "Saturday Night Fever" the previous year. I felt sorry for George Burns being dragged through it. It was also the only time I really, really didn't like Steve Martin for his take on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". I will always remember myself and an entire theater on premiere night staring slack-jawed at the screen, unable to wrap our heads around how bad this was, and how afterwards the film rep was almost unable to look anyone in the eye.
Having achieved cult status, a Rutles follow up in 2002 got a lot of star cameos, but really was just an homage to the first film and had even less to do with The Beatles.
A lot of people liked Cirque du Soliel's "Love" and therefore it continues to play in Vegas. Having looked forward to it and pre-ordering the album in 2006, I now think this another one of those things that ought to stay in Vegas ... or better yet, some remote part of Saskatchewan.
Even though Paul McCartney is reported to have liked it, "Across the Universe" was an overwrought, self-important mess.
All of which brings us to "Yesterday". A little long. Occasionally a little precious. Kate McKinnon's character was too much of a cartoon and could have easily been eliminated. But overall, the best effort yet for a movie based on the existence of The Beatles.
If ANYONE born in the past 25 years discovers The Beatles because of this, it was a success. And as you said, which songs get discovered compared to what brought the Beatles to prominence 55 years ago says a lot about the times.
Just recently, I commissioned a local high school art class to paint an old school bus (now named "Daisy Sunshine") in honor of the Woodstock 50th. As a result, several of the teens have become 60's music fans. One, who'd never heard of Jimi Hendrix says he's now his favorite musician. So I'm confident many of the songs in Yesterday will be "discovered" and some new Beatles converts will be created.

therealshell said...

I was not aware that the world used gel.

Peter Aparicio said...

I was shocked. My niece (22) actually asked me if I liked a song from Simon and Garfunkel, "Keep the Customer Satisfied" - an unreleased track from their "Bridge..." album.
Loved that she appreciated it. Not all hope is lost.

charlotte said...

Friday question:

Any thoughts on Walter Murch's "Rule of Six" for motion picture editors as it relates to screenwriting, Ken?
https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/walter-murch-and-the-rule-of-six-1670b194cb39

sanford said...

My father said the Beatles wouldn't last 6 months. Was he ever wrong. Meanwhile my Mother was pretty hip. She liked a lot of new music. Pretty sure she liked Lady Gaga and other new music. She was born in 1923. So she lived through swing music, jazz, Sinatra, Tony Bennet etc. Even as a youngster I liked some of the same music. I can't say the same for my son's who are in their 30's. I am sure they have no clue who any of the old stars are. They won't even watch a black and white movie. I am sure they have of no clue who Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy are. I tell my son's that nobody will be singing or listening to their music 30 years from now. Meanwhile people still listen to the Beatles, Stones, etc 50 years after they became popular.

BobP said...

Haven't seen the movie but wondered but read people's memory of The Beatles is erased. But are all of the books, records, cd's and movies also destroyed. /Wouldn't these still be streaming and in stores and showing on some streaming service. Just wondering.

Eric said...

I haven't seen this movie, so I can't offer an opinion on it. That said, can you please cool it with the Millennial-bashing already? Yes, today's kids HAVE heard of the Beatles. Yes, they DO watch movies that are in black-and-white. The idea that "today's kids" are ignorant of any art made before they were born is a lazy, hackneyed stereotype with little basis in reality. Most of the Millennials I know are highly intelligent and well-versed in the arts and culture. Yes, there are some Millennials who don't appreciate the classics, but there are several Baby Boomers and Generation X members you could say that about too. Don't dismiss an entire generation with a hacky cliche. It's bad writing, and you're better than that.

Breadbaker said...

I looked on this as a Richard Curtis movie, and to me it delivered. In the UK, Himesh Patel is a big star, and Kate McKinnon means nothing. Personally, I knew nothing about either of them and took the performances at face value. Patel struck me as a click less charismatic than the role required. He sings well, and he's basically on screen for the entire movie, which takes a lot, but so much of the Beatles' success was their character, not just their songs.

On the other hand, I enjoyed McKinnon's performance because, to me, her character was uncompromisingly unpleasant. That's how it was written; she's a cartoon monster in a cartoon movie. If she'd tied to humanize it, she wouldn't have been playing the right character. Chacun a son gout, I guess.

Unknown said...

If there's one thing that sets young people today apart (talking about teenagers and college kids; as people have pointed out already Millinials are starting to push 40 now) it's that they know about a surprising breadth of things. Unlike previous generations they grew up with the internet so all it takes is for them to come across one song that catches their attention for them to jump down a rabbit hole and become an expert. Twenty hours of obsessive research on the internet equals how many years of listening to the radio and hanging around people's older brothers?

VP81955 said...

To Peter Aparicio: "Keep The Customer Satisfied" was the B-side of the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" single, and got its share of airplay in early 1970. Frankly, I always preferred it to the A-side's pretentious bombast.

Anonymous said...


@Unknown:
If there's one thing that sets young people today apart (talking about teenagers and college kids; as people have pointed out already Millinials are starting to push 40 now) it's that they know about a surprising breadth of things.

Doens't jibe with Ken's observation they don't know who Robert Redford is.

Personally I don't think they know about a surprising breadth of things.
I think they have access to knowledge about a surprising breadth of things, which is a little different.

Jen from Jersey said...

It’s on Comedy Central.

J.P. Pelzman said...

I almost always agree with your opinions on comedy, Ken, because you are an expert on the subject, but I don't get Kate McKinnon's appeal. As you say, she never plays 'real,' and I'll take it a step further and say her comedic acting consists mostly of doing a goofy voice, bugging her eyes out and pitching it to the cheap seats. No subtlety whatsoever and she certainly would NOT make my list of all-time SNL greats.

In fact, a big problem with SNL today IMO is what you've mentioned in previous posts about current sitcoms. There are few jokes, there are lines that you make one smile and ones that draw clapter, but few belly laughs. Instead, they rely on performers such as McKinnon to chew the scenery in lieu of solid material.