The idea is lovely. A catastrophic blip in the Earth’s electrical fields results in a few losses to society – one of them is all trace of The Beatles, except for the memory from unsuccessful songwriter Jack Malik. During the catastrophe, Jack (newcomer Himesh Patel), has had a bike accident and lands on his head. Somehow, he remembers The Beatles when no one else does. The realisation comes gradually, he mentions a few Beatles references and is met with complete blankness, so he tries a song, or two. Before long, he has a manager, is on the road with Ed Sheeran and his fame is skyrocketing.
It’s a film with music at its core, but as a music film, it’s not Rocketman or Bohemian Rhapsody. Instead, it’s a typical Richard Curtis film but with a new crew. The joy is the wit, the characters and the fun of trying to remember Beatles lyrics (I’m not the only one who struggles with lyrics!)
Curtis wrote the screenplay, Danny Boyle directed, The Beatles provided the core of the soundtrack, Lily James features and so do Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal.
Jack and Ellie (Lily James) are the thwarted lovers at the centre of the plot but they are not a couple given to sparking much. James can be an expert flirt on film and Jack is supposed to be clueless about his feelings but perhaps he’s playing it too well. It’s one aspect of the film that doesn’t entirely work.
While Jack gains the unique memory of The Beatles, he also suffers a few few losses, his would-be girlfriend and former manager, and his new manager – a scary American who is focused on building up her Malibu property portfolio (I wonder whether Curtis is having a dig at someone he knows).
For those who love Notting Hill, and I’m pretty much assuming that’s most of us, there is a Spike character. This time he’s called Rocky, but he’s equally incompetent and daft but a good friend and loveable character with good lines.
Boyle’s classic cutaways and signature touches are there and his use of close-ups is well suited to this film.
There’s a lot of Curtis’ cleverness evident: in Jack’s first gig with Sheeran they are playing to a crowd in Moscow and Jack starts singing Back in the USSR. The crowd goes wild, although there is one man in the audience who seems to know something about the song, and Sheeran wonders why Jack calls it the USSR since it’s been Russia ever since he was born. And, suspicion is also thrown on Jack when he decides to “write” Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby and he needs to go to Liverpool to see the sites (and be reminded on the lyrics – which he certainly can’t Google).
It’s a good reminder that there are a lot of great Beatles songs out there – the key words being ‘lots’ and ‘great’, and for me it’s certainly given me a reason to revisit the back catalogue. For a film focused around music – I wanted more. I wanted more music, fuller renditions of the songs – an imagined musical numbers somewhere between Boyle’s Bollywood number from Slumdog Millionaire and one of the Beatles psychedelic films.
The film raises the question – or at least it did with the friends I saw it with – if The Beatles released their songs today, would they still be hits? My take was, with a world in thrall with Ed Sheeran and his homogenised tunes – bloody oath they would be. My friends were not so sure. It’s a good discussion to have and the film is worth seeing on this account alone.
It’s fun, it’s feelgood, it’s British and it’s got that fine sense of Brit humour and deprecation. To see Bhaksar and Syal as Jack’s parents, in roles not too far removed from the householders in the ‘Kumars at No. 42’, I was reminded of how much I missed that show.
The Beatles references peppered (no pun intended) throughout will keep Beatles fanatics happy. But, ultimately, Boyle and Curtis being paired may have promised more than was delivered. It was a bit of a wasted opportunity I thought.