I’ve never written a review before, and this will probably be unlike any you have ever read. I will be unconcerned with the technical aspects of the film, and I don’t know, nor do I care enough to research, the names of the actors. That’s not the subject of the film or of this review.
The movie has a simple concept: Almost everyone in the world has forgotten The Beatles ever existed. It’s not clear why, but it has something to do with a power outage. The fact is, it doesn’t matter. We’re willing to suspend our disbelief because we’re interested in the idea: What if some third rate pub singer was the only musician who had ever heard a Beatles song?
Aaron Sorkin teaches that the key to a movie is having a strong intention and difficult obstacles to overcome in fulfilling that intention. The intention, here, is that the protagonist, Jack, wants to become a great musician. The obstacle is that he has almost no measurable talent. He overcomes that obstacle by being the only musician in the world who knows any Beatles songs. He is shocked that no one on the planet knows John, Paul, George, and Ringo. And he begins to play their songs.
The movie is really, for me, about the need for Great Art. I conducted a singularly unscientific poll among my Facebook Friends, and I found that the majority of them are significant Beatles fans. I’m old. This is to be expected. I found a few who weren’t, and I was more surprised by that. Why?
The Beatles are the Shakespeare of Pop Music. And just as there are people who don’t like Hamlet, there are people who don’t live for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Something” has been recorded by more than 200 artists. Why? It’s an objectively great piece of Art. Sinatra, whose opinion is pretty well informed, called it the greatest love song ever written.
Now, there are many things that are a matter of opinion in Art. But, there are some things that are simply objectively demonstrable. For example, it’s not just my opinion that Miles Davis was, or Chuck Curry is, a better trumpet player than I am. I can’t play it. If you give me a trumpet, I know enough to get a noise to come out of it. I can’t play a single note, let alone a tune. So… it’s really not a matter solely of opinion. To reach a different conclusion would be to deny any meaning the terms Music or Art could ever have.
Was Miles Davis a better trumpet player than Chuck Curry is now? We could debate that. I would be willing to bet all of this week’s allowance of Diet Pepsi that Chuck would be the first to say Davis is his superior. And Chuck knows much more about the Art of Music than I ever will. His opinion is more valuable because it is better informed than mine. But there are undoubtedly those who prefer Chuck’s playing to Miles’s. I prefer it, from time to time. Otherwise, I would never listen to my Chuck CDs. I would play only Miles Davis.
My point is this. Whether you prefer one thing to another is not the same as determining what is great. You may not like Hamlet, but Shakespeare was, demonstrably, a better writer than Stephen King. I swear to you Stephen King will agree with that assessment. He knows the Art of Writing, and he knows his place in it.
In the same way, the work of The Beatles is, in fact, demonstrably, some of the most beautiful and powerful music ever written.
The movie explains it beautifully. A singer who I believe I’m supposed to know, but didn’t, named Ed Sheeran, challenges Jack to a songwriting contest. 10 minutes, and they’ll both come up with their best song.
Sheeran plays his. It’s perfectly nice. It’s also entirely forgettable. I can tell you because I’ve already forgotten it. There was not a thing wrong with it. I remember sort of liking it. I just don’t remember anything else about it.
Jack performs “The Long and Winding Road.” The small audience watching is stunned into silence before first Sheeran, and then the rest of the crowd, applauds. Someone says something about taking a vote. Sheeran declines it. He says something along the lines of, “No vote. It’s not necessary. You’re better than I am. You’re Mozart to my Salieri.” I love that because it’s the artist recognizing Art. Stephen King would say the same about Shakespeare. Chuck would say the same thing about Miles.
Art improves the world. It makes it more beautiful. It gives you access to feelings you never knew you had. It helps you to understand the indecipherable. It builds empathy.
There’s a love story that is fine, but, mostly, for me, irrelevant. Other reviewers will disagree with me. They may well be right. The girl that played his love interest was cute and sweet and entirely deserving of love, but that portion of the story was the least explored, probably because it was put in at the insistence of some producer somewhere who thought it wouldn’t make any money without a love story. (They might want to watch “A Few Good Men” again!)
And the movie does a fine job of attacking the monetization of Art. The manager is wonderfully evil. She’s also a simple caricature. But that’s all she needs to be.
This movie isn’t any exploration of people; it’s an exploration of an idea.
If the Beatles had never existed, our lives would be less enriched. This is true of all Art. That was the point of the movie. It made its point well.