Writing About YESTERDAY…Today

Movie critics are annoying. Present company excluded, of course.

Here’s a quick example. They often like horrible movies because they think they’re artsy. Most recently, that would be: The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It’s virtually unwatchable and makes no sense. 

A month before that, Tilda Swinton and her daughter starred in a movie called The Souvenir. The critics raved about it, and it was the most boring experience my wife and I had at a movie this year. The audience leaving the theatre hated it, too (some left before it was even over). Yet critics praised it, because, well…it must be art, it was slow and boring and the director was trying to tell us something.

The Oscar winning Roma from last year was another. It was just so boring, and…watching a maid constantly mop up dog doo…isn’t interesting filmmaking.

Often times critics and audiences agree. This year, we all pretty much agreed that Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray teaming up again didn’t produce good results with The Dead Don’t Die.

Sometimes weird things happen with film reviews. For instance, last year’s amazing Green Book. Critics and audiences loved it, but then some critics started listening to a narrative about how an Italian shouldn’t write a story, that a Caucasian directed, that dealt with an African-American. Hogwash! Just as nobody cared when a black director gave us The Italian Job, it shouldn’t matter that a white director gave us a terrific movie about the friendship between an Italian-American and an African-American. At the end of the day, we just want an entertaining movie that doesn’t waste our time (or our money).

All that leads me to the movie Yesterday. I’m guessing almost every audience member that left the theatre enjoyed it, but it’s surprisingly only getting around 60% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

Now, the movie isn’t without its flaws; but screenwriter Richard Curtis got such glowing reviews for his romantic films Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually, which all had a few flaws. 

My wife liked Yesterday, but she didn’t think the love story worked. I was fine with that aspect of the story, even if it’s a bit unbelievable  (my original review appears here: https://fox5sandiego.com/2019/06/26/yesterday/ ). 

Another friend of mine who knows everything there is to know about music (and wrote the play 33 ⅓ — House of Dreams, a musical which is opening soon here in San Diego), didn’t like how the Kate McKinnon character was played. I didn’t either, and yet we both liked the movie.

In my quest to find out why almost half of all movie critics disliked the movie, I spent an entire afternoon reading various reviews. The biggest complaint seems to be that it’s never explained why the power goes out all over the world, and after 12 seconds when it comes back on, nobody remembers The Beatles. Now, that’s a valid complaint. The problem I have is that it shouldn’t sink the entire film. Just as me not liking George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” didn’t make me dislike the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. That’s one lousy song on a brilliant album, just as the power outage that gets the film started, is one cog in the movie machine, that sets events unfolding.  

A critic that didn’t like this movie argued that point with me, saying if you can’t buy the premise the film is based on, how can you enjoy everything that’s happening during the film? They also said, “If you can’t conclude the movie answering questions I have, I can’t say I liked the experience.”

I immediately called him on that by using two movies that are considered the best ever made (and despite their flaws, I agree they’re both bloody brilliant). The first is Pulp Fiction. I can give you five big flaws in that film. But the better example I used was Groundhog Day. It’s never explained why a day repeats over and over again. Yet we realize that, once Bill Murray’s character has changed and became a better person, he’s released from the hell that is waking up to Sonny & Cher every morning and instead waking up with Andie MacDowell.

And if we want to start really breaking down the plausibility of what’s happening on screen, let’s talk about the biggest movie of this year (or should I say, of all time?). Avengers: Endgame ended with (no spoiler needed, everyone’s seen it at this point) Iron Man dying and Captain America going back in time to take the infinity stones and right the wrongs. Uh, time travel? Really? How is that more “realistic” a premise than a world that has forgotten John, Paul, George, and Ringo [side note: I’m guessing it would be heaven for Pete Best to have a world that doesn’t remember the Fab Four].

Oh, and not just the idea that you could travel back in time, but Captain America stays, so he can be with the woman he loves. That’s romantic as hell, and I’ll admit, tears welled up in my eyes as I saw him as an old man sitting on a park bench, with a smile on his face and happy with the life he led with Peggy. Someone just needs to explain to me what happened to the younger Steve Rogers. I don’t think time travel would also just let two versions of the same person walk the Earth. 

So the biggest complaint among critics was that it’s never explained how the world forgets The Beatles. Among the other complaints on a lesser scale — one critic felt the lead actor (Himesh Patel) wasn’t good looking enough. First of all, he looked just fine; and with his intelligence and humor, no woman would have a problem finding him attractive (well, aside from that critic). Second, it works better than if you had a famous A-lister. In one of William Goldman’s (The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy, etc.) books about Hollywood, he said when they were casting for Misery that Meryl Streep wanted the part. THEY didn’t want her, because she was too famous, and you had to believe a character was a “big fan” of the author, and do you really believe Streep is doing some of those nasty things to James Caan? Well, you cast a perfect looking, popular white dude like Ansel Elgort, Blake Jenner, or Chris Hemsworth…well, we can believe a guy like that could pick up that Gibson sunburst acoustic guitar and become popular, even if he was singing solo Ringo Starr material [side note: apologies to Richard Starkey, since I love his jaunty Beatles tunes, and even his solo stuff like Photograph, It Don’t Come Easy, The No No Song, Back Off Boogaloo, and a few others]

My bigger problem with the movie (although it didn’t stop me from enjoying it), is that these songs WOULD NOT be popular today, had the Beatles never existed. Think about it. If you started singing “I am the Walrus” or “All You Need is Love” (just a coincidence I went with two songs from Magical Mystery Tour), would those be hits today? Those songs were popular because it was the ‘60s. That album was released during the Summer of Love, by a band that used to do teenybopper songs like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Twist and Shout.” They already had millions of fans and were able to roll with the times (and often help influence the era), and they continued to get more and more fans. Now, that doesn’t mean if a popular band like Coldplay or Imagine Dragons did one of those songs today it wouldn’t be a hit. It may be, but that’s because it’s already a famous artist. That’s exactly why some horrible songs like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” or the recent Taylor Swift tune “ME!” are hits, and they’re both so dreadfully bad.

Just as I think if Paul McCartney had never been in The Beatles and become famous, he wouldn’t have gotten famous or had a hit with the song “Jet” (yet it was a hit, because of who he was at the time, and being the first single released from the third Wings album). 

I went into Yesterday thinking I’d hate it. The Beatles are one of my favorite bands, but the commercial just looked corny. I’m also not a big fan of Ed Sheeran, and he’s in a lot of the movie. Yet he knocks it out of the park. Even this ditty he wrote about love being like penguins on ice, was a rather catchy tune. In fact, it irks me that during this “songwriter competition” scene in which the song is played, the soundtrack doesn’t have this Sheeran song on it. It should be right before the placement of The Long and Winding Road (mini spoiler alert — that’s the song he beats Sheeran with). Soundtracks always seem to mess things up with how they should be done (but that’s another rant for another time).

The point of this rant is to let people know, if they’re on the fence about seeing this movie (or hadn’t even considered seeing it), they should go. In a time when it’s always superheroes or animated films, or reboots of horror films from decades ago — this is a good ole, toe-tapping romance. It might not be Citizen Kane, but it’s a damn fine film.

We don’t compare every new band that comes out to whether they’re as good as The Beatles, so…why does this have to be the perfect movie without any flaws? It’s good enough to make you glad you spent two hours with these characters and these songs again.

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