The basic concept of this film is a guy wakes up in a world where only he can remember The Beatles. They’re one of a few musical artists that that concept would work for. There’s them, Elvis, Queen, that’s it. There are big bands (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath), and there are influential ones, but very few are in that place where almost anybody can name 20 songs by them immediately. They’re 3 of the only bands where you occasionally forget they’ve got songs you don’t know because of how many songs you do know.
Trouble is, it takes longer than it should to get there, and doesn’t really show how different the world would be. It doesn’t seem to have removed their effects (with the exception of a quick joke about Oasis no longer existing, a very quick joke which is NEVER touched upon again, which is weird as it’s established the character sang Wonderwall at a school talent show, he doesn’t decide to then record and release that song too.) There are moments where it shows other things no longer exist for some reason (Cigarettes, Coca Cola, Harry Potter) but they’re quick one-off jokes and never built on. That feeling of wasted potential is on that I got a lot through this film. Particularly during two moments near the end.
1) There’s a scene near the end where he performs on a rooftop. A rooftop gig, in a Beatles film? This will be important. The Beatles’ rooftop gig was thought to be the end of an era, one of the true closing points of the band. In this? It’s just another gig. It doesn’t even get broken up by the police.
2) In this universe, John Lennon lives. The main character goes to see him, then decides to apologise to the woman he’s hurt. Now if only there was a John Lennon song which would be appropriate for that occasion. One where he says he didn’t mean to hurt her and he’s sorry that he made her cry. If only.
It’s things like that which make it seem like this wasn’t a passion project. It doesn’t seem written by someone with an obvious deep love for the band, it seems like someone who buys almost exclusively greatest hits and chart compilations. Someone who considers Bryan Adams “hard rock”.
On the upside; the central romance is actually believable and heartfelt. You actually want them to end up together. They play well off each other and are a cute couple. The ensemble cast itself is pretty good, although Kate McKinnon does continue to be slightly too over the top at times, which doesn’t mesh well with the other performances which are more restrained. I also question the Ed Sheeran role. He plays himself well, it just feels a bit weird. At times it feels more like it’s promoting “the genius of Ed Sheeran” rather than The Beatles. It also teases him turning against the main character and becoming the antagonist driven by jealousy and resentment, but it never happens. It also has James Corden playing himself in a scene I’m still baffled by. I think it was a dream sequence (if so it shouldn’t be in the trailer, dream sequences NEVER should be the trailer, it’s a fucking cop-out), but I’m not sure. If it actually happened then it was glossed over completely, but if it was just a dream sequence then it wasn’t needed. Just a bit weird.
I mentioned earlier how it seemed like Ed Sheeran would be the antagonist, it also performs a fake out with two other characters as well, played by “I know them from somewhere” actors Sarah Lancashire and Justin Edwards. It’s played with that they know the truth, that he stole the songs, and they do. They’re the only two other people who know the truth, but they promise to keep quiet as they just miss the music so much. It’s a very sweet moment that is beautifully built up, and leads to the John Lennon appearance which is without a doubt the emotional highlight of the film both for the audience and the main character.
So I think you should see this, but ideally in a packed screening. If you watch it in an almost empty screen it won’t quite hit as well. Failing that, gather the family around and watch it at Christmas on iPlayer (when it will DEFINITELY be on in the future)