Recently, I went to see Yesterday, a new film from director Danny Boyle who has previously directed Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 127 Hours (2010), and Steve Jobs (2015), among others. I enjoyed the movie too — quite a bit in fact. My desire to see the film and my appreciation for the film are actually a bit surprising because Yesterday is the type of film I usually avoid.
If you haven’t yet seen the movie or heard about it, the story’s premise is that a 12-second, worldwide blackout has removed from society all knowledge and memory of the Beatles — yes, those Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Only one person, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), remembers the Lads from Liverpool and their music. Thus, as a desperate and struggling musician, Jack has the opportunity to resurrect his career by sharing the Beatles’ songs with the world.
What a ridiculous premise! Am I right? There’s no way that could ever happen; the idea stretches my credulity, my willingness to believe, to its limit. I typically avoid such far-fetched ideas because I prefer realistic fiction or autobiographical stories. For example, I would normally choose a film like Rocketman because I know it’s based on the life of Elton John. And I would typically avoid all movies that include werewolves, aliens, zombies, and superheroes. I’m not saying these are bad movies; I just don’t care for them.
One movie from a while back that I did not enjoy was the 1997 film Life Is Beautiful, a film about the Holocaust directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. A good friend highly recommended the film because he really enjoyed the father-son relationship and especially how the dad acted in a cheerful and happy-go-lucky manner to shield the young boy from the cruelty and violence surrounding them in the concentration camp. I didn’t buy the premise at all. I felt the subject matter and the setting were much too serious for a lighthearted portrayal.
At the other extreme, I did enjoy the 2006 film The Astronaut Farmer (directed by Michael Polish), which in many ways is even more unbelievable than any of the other types I mentioned previously. My mind knows that a single farmer and his family cannot launch a manned rocket into space, but I was intrigued enough by the premise to suspend my credulity and climb aboard for the ride. The same thing happened when I saw the preview for Yesterday.
I was so attracted to the comedic possibility and the dramatic irony of knowing so much more than most of the characters that I couldn’t wait to see it, and it was worth the wait. The relationship between Jack and his manager, Ellie (Lily James), is totally engaging, and the ethical dilemma that Jack faces with each “new” song he produces gradually grows in intensity. In addition, Ed Sheeran and James Corden play themselves and provide a certain plausibility, and, of course, the music is phenomenal. Watching Patel perform some classic Beatle tunes to an audience that has never heard them before is both entertaining and touching.
So what lesson have I learned from this recent cinematic endeavor? Maybe I shouldn’t be so close minded. Maybe I should be more open to films whose stories on the surface seem so unrealistic. And maybe my readers could suggest some “far-out” films that are definitely worth seeing. Then, I could honestly say, just as the Beatles themselves might say, “I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.”