Film

‘Yesterday’ Is Absolute Baby Boomer Bait, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Bad

Old people LOVE The Beatles.

Yesterday Review

By now, you’ve probably heard about Yesterday, one of 2019s most egregiously odd pitches for a mainstream romantic comedy.

A world without the popular band The Beatles? How delightfully wacky!

It’s a concept that seems better suited for an episode of The Twilight Zone, a sci-fi lite scenario that feels like it could have been scraped off the floor of a Black Mirror brainstorming session. It’s a far cry from most rom-coms which are almost aggressively suburban or pedestrian in pitch, in order to make the romantic journey at the centre of the film seem more magical by comparison.

However, despite the flashy concept, Yesterday is absolutely a by-the-book Richard Curtis style rom-com at heart. If you love a simple, delightful, and gently funny love story in the vein of Notting Hill or even the cursed Love Actually, then you will genuinely enjoy Yesterday.

It’s the kind of film that makes you smile. It’s goddamn nice. It’s enjoyable. It’s something you take your mum to see.

Plot-wise, you have to treat the weird magical concept that births the story as more of a garnish than anything else.

But, to push the metaphor a little further, that garnish is absolutely the delicious bait designed to draw in one particular, cashed-up demographic — you might call them mum and dad, but history will remember them as the Baby Boomers.

An entire world that cannot remember who The Beatles are? What a ridiculously effective trap for the middle aged.

Love, Loving, Love Song, Etc.

There is a Beatles lyric which goes “love is all you need”, and I was struggling to remember which song it came from throughout the entire screening of Yesterday.

Turns out, it’s from a song called ‘Love Is All You Need’, and I realised I know it mostly because it’s in a scene in Love Actually. I’m not a big Beatles guy.

It’s also an extremely on-the-nose summary of the moral of this film.

As promised, the film follows the journey of the mildly talented, slightly emotionally stunted (or is that just being British, it’s hard to tell) Jack Malik, who after getting hit by a bus, wakes up in a world where The Beatles never existed.

Naturally, he uses this for profit, and manages to rise to huge fame and fortune — but, no spoilers, does he actually want fame and fortune built on a bed of lies? Or would he prefer… love. It’s a very rom-com setup, asking what you’d give up for real, true, love.

Thematically it works too — it’s a pitch-perfect echo of exactly the same kind of pop-sentimentality that The Beatles espoused in their songs. After all: ‘All You Need Is Love’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘It’s Only Love’, ‘Real Love’, ‘Love Me Do’, ‘Words of Love’, etc etc etc.

What a great excuse to use the songs of one of the world’s most popular bands in a nice love story. Feel good! Nice! Love!

Nostalgia and Other Franchises

But, I couldn’t help but wonder, if we’d ever do a similar film in 30 years about One Direction? It doesn’t seem likely for a few reasons, one of them being that civilisation will have ended by then, rendering even the concept of nostalgia invalid.

The other reason being that there is simply no band as endlessly mythologised as The Beatles, and no generation more endlessly self congratulatory about their own culture than the Baby Boomers.

“But boomers clearly take the prize in the nostalgia sweepstakes,” says this article in the Washington Post about the oppressive rise of Boomer nostalgia.  “Perhaps the most self-mythologising generation of all, those feisty postwar babies have demonstrated a singular talent for foisting their remembrances on the rest of us, like a neighbour freshly returned from a painstakingly documented African safari.”

Boomer nostalgia is something we’ve been living with for a long time — for millennials, literally our entire lives. They’re still in positions of power, pushing their endless need to reminisce about the time Bob Dylan jizzed on an acoustic guitar, through all the radio stations and network TV channels and carrier pigeon networks. They’re still stocking The White Album in all three of their holiday houses.

They set the sixties and the heyday of their generation as a kind of platonic ideal, so that everything culturally reflects or echoes it. Every festival has been post-Woodstock, every war post-Vietnam, every boyband shifting uneasily in the long, bowl-cutted shadow of The Beatles.

Who Even Were The Beatles Anyway

The Beatles are such an insane catnip for boomers.

They were undeniably huge and world-changing. Their songs are pretty dang good! I’m not gonna be contrarian. They also undoubtedly represent the peak of a particular generation’s influence on the world.

What’s hilarious about Yesterday is that The Beatles could be seen as therefore representing the totality of Boomer culture in the world, even the generation themselves — and the movie is a kind of homage/ dystopia which explores the effects of removing said culture.

It’s literally a Sliding Doors style scenario, where in order to reaffirm exactly how important boomer culture is, (and boomers) they create an entire movie premised on what would happen if boomers… had never existed.

As the movie shows, it’s not just The Beatles — there’s a kind of cascade effect, with all sorts of things also having disappeared along with the likely lads from Liverpool. In this world there’s no Harry Potter, there’s no Oasis. There’s only Pepsi, not Coke. This is literally how important Boomers see their culture — that the world would in some way be broken without their influence.

It’s pretty telling that the only contrast to The Beatles that the boomerless world can produce is Ed Sheeran. In that world, Ed Sheeran is the most popular musician, trumped only by someone plagiarising The Beatles. A kind of aspirational dystopia, that reinforces to boomers Boomers that they truly were the greatest generation.

In 2019, Boomer nostalgia is powerful, but it’s still nostalgia — their influence is on the ebb, while the brash confusing world of gens Y and Z are in ascendancy. A movie which basically says “you are nothing without us” is like crack for them, except crack is probably too modern. It’s like heroine — they were the generation that made heroin great.

I wonder if heroin exists in the world of Yesterday?

It’s Really Stupid!

That said, while this is obviously the tasty lure that the film used to bait boomers, the actual plotline doesn’t manifest this too awfully.

It’s all there in inference, but the majority of the plot doesn’t delve too far into sentimentality — I would have found that insufferable. There is one scene where we get a John Lennon cameo as an alternate (non-dead) reality version of himself, and it’s awful. It shows you just how bad the film could have been if they’d leaned in to their own mythology too far.

But mostly the film is defined by a kind of gleeful lack of giving a shit about how dumb it all is — balancing out the moments of sentimentality with some self aware shrugs, and a lot of snark. For every moment of legitimate boomer porn, where they basically all agree that The Beatles were the last good band, and decide as a generation to stop trying anything new, we get Kate McKinnon absolutely living her best life as an overblown parody of an LA music exec.

I’m super excited for the sequel, Yesterday 2: Tomorrow, in which the blighted remnants of humanity try to remember the concept of music as the world literally burns around them, thanks to boomers dying off and leaving us with irreversible climate damage (and Abbey Road).

Yesterday is currently in cinemas.


Patrick Lenton is the Entertainment Editor at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.