Movie critics missed the boat in their reviews of Yesterday. Chicago critics in the Tribune and Sun Times gave it 2.5 stars. So, when I saw it with three generations of Beatles fans in my family, including my granddaughter who was born 33 years after The Beatles broke up, we all thought it would be a good summer diversion and fun to hear the music. But it was far more than a way to cool off on a hot, cloudy summer afternoon. Yesterday was the perfect antidote to the news of the day – detention camps and ICE raids driven by hate and fear, storms made worse by climate change, Jeffrey Epstein and R. Kelly, and the overall chaos and oppression of living in the Trumpian era.
Yes, the plot didn’t make literal sense, which was one of the criticisms of Tribune reviewer Katie Walsh, but that was not the purpose of this film. And you don’t have to believe, as she argues, that The Beatles created the best songs ever. Only that the world would suffer a great loss if their songs disappeared, which is the set-up for the movie. Another of her knocks on Yesterday was that, “Everyone on screen is just so likable (even McKinnon, playing the villain), especially the earnest, open Patel, in a star-making heartthrob turn featuring his crystal-clear singing voice.” What is wrong with a film filled with likeable characters? The love and joy of the music, performed by the talented Himesh Patel, reminded me that we need more that is likeable in our lives these days.
Director Danny Boyle asked for permission from Paul, Ringo, and George’s and John’s widows and paid $10 million to use their music. It was a great investment to watch Patel perform these songs:
- Let It Be
- I Want to Hold Your Hand
- She Loves You
- I Saw Her Standing There
- In My Life
- Back in the USSR
- The Long & Winding Road
- Here Comes the Sun
- A Hard Day’s Night
- Carry That Weight
- Hey Jude
- All You Need is Love
- Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
I loved how Patel struggled to recall the exact lyrics to these classics, and how in some cases he failed. I loved the happiness that overcame not just me, but also my granddaughter, as we tried hard not to sing aloud (and sometimes failed). I loved the friendship and caring expressed by the main characters. I loved the parody of the crass and commercial materialism of the music industry as portrayed by the always funny Kate McKinnon. Most of all, I loved the ultimate messages of music belonging to everyone, the importance of being true to oneself, and the choice of happiness over fame and fortune.
These messages are what makes Yesterday a film to see today. And I fear the mediocre reviews will keep people from seeing this delightful film and affirming these important concepts. I felt the same way after I saw the wonderful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Morgan Neville’s tribute to the late Fred (AKA Mister) Rogers. I wept at parts of both films, mostly because they reminded me that people have the capacity to be kind, loving, and inclusive.
Movie critics have often led me astray. The day before seeing Yesterday, I saw a film that Chicago reviewers loved (3.5 stars), The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I agree that there were important issues raised by this film. Homelessness and gentrification and racism must be addressed, in movies and, more importantly, in society. While this is the type of artsy film embraced by critics, I saw people walking out during the film and I left feeling cheated out of a deeper understanding of the film's message.
In contrast, no one walked out of Yesterday. In fact, when the original Beatles recording of Hey Jude was played accompanying the credits, the audience stayed and started to sing along. I’ll confess, that song always makes me cry. But there were other moments in Yesterday when I teared up, not because of anything in the plot, but because the music and the movie’s message reminded me of how far we have strayed from the values they express.
See Yesterday, Danny Boyle’s new movie, and forget the critics.