Yesterday

Posted on June 27, 2019 at 5:30 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and tipsiness
Violence/ Scariness: Bicycle accident, some graphic injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2019
Date Released to DVD: September 23, 2019

Copyright 2019 Universal Pictures
Yesterday” would have made a cute seven-minute sketch on “Saturday Night Live” (or, as this movie would say, “Thursday Night Live”) but it does not work as a movie. I wish I could say they ran out of ideas in the last third, but it’s worse than that. They had ideas; they just ran out of good ones. There’s a curious disconnect in watching the film between the weakness of the storyline, including a major jump the shark swerve near the end, and the imperishable music of the Beatles. Every time we hear “In My Life” or a rocking “Help!” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” we say, “That sure is a great song” and forget for a moment that the movie is not very good. Richard Curtis admitted as much in an interview on Morning Joe: “When I type and run out of ideas I just put in ‘The Long and Winding Road.'”

Jack (Himesh Patel) has been trying to make it as a musician for ten years in his small home town on the English coast. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) believes in him and acts as his manager when she isn’t teaching high school math. But he is not making much progress. He is ready to give up when a mysterious worldwide blackout shuts down all power for twelve seconds and he is hit by a bus as he is bicycling home. During that twelve seconds, somehow the world is rebooted in a slightly different form. The Beatles never existed. Some other random cultural touchstones are missing as well, including Coke. Jack, just out of the hospital and still missing two front teeth, thanks his friends for the gift of a new guitar by playing “Yesterday.” Which they have never heard before and think he wrote. And of course they love it, though one of them says it’s not up to the level of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

Jack starts playing Beatles songs and people like them. Ed Sheeran, charmingly playing a version of himself, invites him to tour as his opening act. In Moscow, Jack plays “Back in the USSR,” which is a huge success with the crowd, even though most of them were not born when their country was the USSR. Ed Sheeran challenges Jack to a songwriting competition, and has to admit defeat. “You’re Mozart and I’m Salieri,” he says.

An agent named Debra (Kate McKinnon in a sizzling performance) arrives to offer Jack “the poison chalice” of fame and money. Jack, who has waited so long for success as a musician and performer, says yes.

This is very much a lesser work from Richard Curtis, the man who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Pirate Radio,” and “Love Actually.” There are lovely moments — the first recording session, the fun of the astonishment when people are stunned by songs we all know so well they are a part of us, the fantasy of being adored by worldwide audiences, the hilariousness of playing one of the greatest songs of all time for your parents and their not having a clue. And it is intriguing to see a person of color appropriate white musicians’ work for a change. But the friend zone/romance storyline and a bad swerve at the end show that even the world’s greatest songs cannot prop up a script that outstays its welcome. The songs are all sublime, but these new versions do not add anything special.

George Martin, who worked more closely with the Beatles than anyone else, said that their charm was as important to their early success as their music. That early success gave them a chance to develop and grow and take huge risks and reflect on their experiences, all of which became a part of their endlessly innovative and ground-breaking work.

To have even some of their greatest hits all thrown into what is supposed to be one performer’s series of songs, unrelated to what is going on in the lives of the songwriter or in the world, and, to adapt the title of an ex-Beatle song, imagine there’s no Beatles, gives the music an unearned power, relying on our love for the songs and what they mean in our lives, whether we first heard them in kindergarten, at spin class, or as they first came out. That makes this story empty at its Apple Corps.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations and some strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Why did Deborah call what she was offering the poison chalice? What did Jack learn from his meeting with John?

If you like this, try: “Begin Again” and “Across the Universe” and the Beatles movies

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Battle Over “Love Actually”

Posted on December 22, 2013 at 8:00 am

“Love Actually” has become a Christmas tradition.  The assorted stories of romance, from comic to tender to bittersweet, take place at Christmastime, with a rousing performance of “All I Want for Christmas is You” from Olivia Olson.

My friend Christopher Orr does not like “Love Actually.”  He explains why, in great detail, in The Atlantic.

I think it offers up at least three disturbing lessons about love. First, that love is overwhelmingly a product of physical attraction and requires virtually no verbal communication or intellectual/emotional affinity of any kind. Second, that the principal barrier to consummating a relationship is mustering the nerve to say “I love you”—preferably with some grand gesture—and that once you manage that, you’re basically on the fast track to nuptial bliss. And third, that any actual obstacle to romantic fulfillment, however surmountable, is not worth the effort it would require to overcome.love actually

Of course, there are many people who feel differently and it seemed that most of them responded in writing.  In Mother Jones, Ben Dreyfuss wrote a piece called “Why ‘Love Actually’ Matters,” noting that he had seen the film at least 40 times.  “In ‘Love Actually,’ as in life, people fall in love for crazy reasons…Is the movie a meaningful blueprint on how to meet your life’s love and make it last with them forever? Of course not. But is it romantic? Yes! Romance is the big gesture. Romance is the love that erupts without a spoken word.”

In ThinkProgress, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote:

I like “Love Actually” not because I think it’s a compelling celebration of love, or because it’s a good holiday movie, but because of how sad the film often is…. can be painfully clear-eyed about how difficult it is not to have access to that bounty of affection, and to what are supposed to be happy endings.

Emma Green responded to Orr in The Atlantic as well, calling on C.S. Lewis to back her up:

“Love Actually” shows awkward, charming, complicated entanglements that can be very instructive in thinking about love.  To help explain why, I hereby declare my second in this duel: C.S. Lewis. Although a mid-century Christian apologist might seem like an bizarre choice for back-up in a battle about a romantic comedy, his book The Four Loves provides a helpful framework for examining the big question “Love Actually” asks: What is love, actually?

Well, for starters, it’s a lot more than romance. Some of the movie’s most “aww!”-inducing moments do involve big, dramatic declarations of the heart (more on that later), but the most interesting of the movie’s nine or 10 subplots are those that don’t quite fit the expected rom-com mold. That’s because they’re not romantic at all: They’re versions of the first two kinds of love Lewis writes about, affection and friendship.

Orr doesn’t give up.  He responded to everyone with a closely-reasoned piece of analysis that could almost serve as a Supreme Court brief or doctoral dissertation.

I think there are two flaws common to many of the defenses of “Love Actually” I’ve seen in comments, on Twitter, and elsewhere on the web. The first is attempting to defend each subplot on an individual basis. I agree that (with one notable exception) any given storyline is perfectly defensible on its own merits. The problem, rather, is the patterns that emerge when you consider the film as a whole. One subplot about an older man wooing a much-younger subordinate? Fine. But three? And on it goes: not one, but two gags (three, if you count the Colin subplot) about how the only possible way a man could overcome heartbreak is with the assistance of one or more supermodels; two storylines in which women (never men) see their romantic lives shattered by obstacles that ought to be surmountable; and, most important, upwards of half a dozen subplots in which characters go directly from initial physical infatuation to (presumed) happily-ever-afters, without remotely bothering to get to know one another in between. These repeated themes are not coincidental.

The second mistake is trying to defend the Keira Knightley storyline, which is flat-out indefensible. Cut it loose, “Love Actually” fans! It’s an anchor that can only bring you down with it.

I “actually” found this debate more entertaining than the movie, which I find problematic but still fun to watch.

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Commentary

About Time

Posted on October 31, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, scary car crash
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 1, 2013
Date Released to DVD: February 3, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BEIYGK2

about-time1Richard Curtis perfected the art of the 21st century romantic comedy in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and “Love Actually.”  They were witty and sophisticated and had posh British accents that made them seem twice as witty and sophisticated.  They were filled with of pretty people wearing pretty clothes in pretty settings, seasoned with self-deprecating humor, magnificent friendships, pop-y soundtracks, and happy ever after endings.  “About Time” has all of that, plus a twist.  I don’t mean the addition of a fantasy time travel element, thought that is something of a departure.  The real twist is that the important love story here is not between man and woman but between father and son.

Oh, there’s a romantic love story, of course, and it’s the part that’s featured on the poster.  Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, son of the Irish actor Brendan Gleeson and best known as one of the Weasley brothers in the “Harry Potter” films) lives in Cornwall with his family, a blissfully happy group that includes his slightly starchy mother (Lindsay Duncan), slightly dotty but impeccably dressed uncle (Richard Cordery), wild child of a sister (Lydia Wilson), and book-loving, family-loving dad (the indispensable Bill Nighy).  Dad explains to Tim that the men in their family have the ability to travel through time.  There are limits, of course.  Like “Quantum Leap,” he is limited to his own lifetime.  He can’t go back and meet Queen Victoria or ride a dinosaur.  And, as Tim will spend the rest of the movie discovering, while he can go back to correct a mistake, the ripple effect of even the tiniest change may have very big consequences that are not so easy to fix.

It may sound all very precious and cutesy, and it is, with Curtis’ trademark adorable eccentrics that are less adorable than he intended.  Even an English accent can only make up for so much.  Tim’s use of his time travel powers to make up for various gaffes is entertaining in a “Groundhog Day”-lite sort of way.  (There’s something rather meta about a feeling of deja vu in these repeated, slightly improved encounters.)  The romance between Tim and a pretty American named Mary (Rachel McAdams), while refreshingly free of the kinds of agonizingly silly misunderstandings that plague most romantic comedies, is on the bland side.  The first meeting with Mary’s parents is supposed to be awkward and funny, but it’s just awkward.  Things get more interesting later, as Tim and Mary get married and start a family.  The stakes are higher and the choices are more complex.

It is in the third act when things start to get interesting, because that is when the focus shifts to the father-son relationship.  Curtis, who says this is his last film, opens up his heart for a piercingly bittersweet engagement with the big questions of who we are, making peace with not being able to fix everything for everyone we love, and finding a way to make pain and loss deepen us.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references, some explicit, and some sexual situations, very strong and crude language, car accident, and a sad death.

Family discussion: If you could go back in time, would you correct a mistake or take time to enjoy what already happened? Why did Kit Kat have such a hard time making good decisions? Was there anything her family should have done differently to help her?

If you like this, try: “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually” from the same writer/director and “Groundhog Day”

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Love Actually

Posted on December 22, 2008 at 8:00 am

A
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexuality, nudity and language
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug humor, drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense and sad scenes
Diversity Issues: Stong, loving diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2003
Date Released to DVD: 2004
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JMFQ

“Love Actually” is as stuffed with goodies as the Christmas stockings for those at the very top of Santa’s “nice” list — and it is just as entertaining, too.

You say you like romantic comedies with gorgeous stars, witty dialogue delivered in swoon-worthy English accents, and oodles of happy endings? This movie gives you ten at once. And yet none of the stories ever feels hurried or incomplete.

The interwoven stories all take place in the weeks before Christmas and cover many kinds of love, touching, tender, sweet, charming, funny, and bittersweet. They include a Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is drawn to the outspoken girl who delivers his tea, an eleven-year old (Thomas Sangster) who wants to attract the attention of the coolest girl in school, a man in love with his best friend’s new bride, a waiter who is sure that all his dreams of romance will come true if he goes to America, a thoroughly married man (Alan Rickman) whose flirtatious secretary is making him wonder how thoroughly married he is, a rock star (Bill Nighy) angling for a comeback with a cheesy Christmas single, a heartbroken writer (Colin Firth) who can’t stop thinking about the woman who cleans his house, even though they don’t understand each other’s languages, and a couple who meet at work as movie stand-ins assigned to increasingly (and hilariously) more intimate poses.

Richard Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill for the first time directs his own screenplay with heart and style. It helps, of course, that he has a dream cast, including newcomer Sangster, a real-life cousin of Hugh Grant and already a first-rate actor and a knock-out screen presence. Each of the actors creates complete, endearing, vivid, and vulnerable characters that we will remember long after we have forgotten most “stars” who spend two full hours onscreen in the latest multiplex fodder.

The movie begins with the Prime Minister musing on the arrivals section of the airport and the love everywhere as people are reunited with those who are most precious to them. This theme continues with a faded rock star (the magnificent Nighy) recording a silly Christmas version of “Love is All Around” (also featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral). But other themes just as important can be summed up somewhere between the words of W.S. Gilbert — “Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady” and a celebration of what one character not unhappily calls “the total agony of being in love.”

This is a movie about taking big chances (both hopeful and hopeless), about making big gestures to show our love, and about big, big feelings that may make us crazy and miserable but remind us that we are alive and why we are alive.

For one man and woman, the inability to communicate in words may be what allows them to sense how much they really belong together. We see in subtitles what they really want to say to each other, but more important, we see on screen what they say to each other with their eyes and the way their breathing changes when they look at each other. Other couples both speak English but still somehow cannot find the words to let each other know how they feel. One ardent soul reaches out through music. Another…just reaches out. Characters also grapple with non-romantic love, including parental, sibling, and deep friendship. They grapple with temptation and conflicting loyalties. And all of them carry our hearts with them.

In addition, any movie that manages to include a child dressed as a Nativity lobster, a Bay City Rollers song played at a funeral, love-emergency lessons in both drums and Portugese, and Hugh Grant dancing through the halls of 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sisters is worth seeing at least twice.

Parents should know that the movie’s R rating comes from some very strong language, sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations, including prostitutes and adultery. There is humorous nudity when stand-ins for what appears to be a soft-core porn movie chat politely as they are posed in increasingly intimate positions. A character’s history of sex, drugs, and rock and roll is played for humor. There are some tense and sad scenes. Some audience members may object to the portrayal of the American President (Billy Bob Thornton) as a crude bully. One of the movie’s many strengths is its matter-of-fact portrayal of loving inter-racial friendship and romance.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the characters handle their feelings of loss, longing, and fear.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Curtis movies as well as classic romantic comedies with more emphasis on romance than comedy like “Moonstruck,” “Roman Holiday,” and “The Philadelphia Story.”

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