I must admit I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this mainly because Help! has always been one of my least favourite Beatles albums. Even the involvement of the Beatles themselves as leading stars together with Richard Lester of the brilliant A Hard Day’s Night, my interest in Help! was never the highest because it was one of only a select few Beatles albums that I found unremarkable as a whole (except a few songs). Among many things that goes without saying in regards to Help! is that A Hard Day’s Night is a far better satire about the “regular lives” of The Beatles and it’s not only from having better music in general, but because it seemed like it offered a great commentary on the fandom that they have inspired at the time, and what it has done for people trying to find an identity for themselves. Help! seems to have taken a different route from that and the results never really are enough to provide much satisfaction.
Help! doesn’t really have so much of a story unlike A Hard Day’s Night, but it still presents itself under the veins of a comedy about the Beatles themselves trying to live ordinary lives with a song or two spliced in. If this film even really had so much of a “plot,” per se, it involved Ringo Starr now being the target of human sacrifice after having worn a ceremonial ring by accident, now leaving the Beatles on the run. The most that can ever be said about what Help! does as is, it feels just like a half-baked version of A Hard Day’s Night, because it exists only for fans of the Beatles to watch them get involved under more crazy antics and it seems to miss the mark on what it was that ultimately had made A Hard Day’s Night work as perfectly as it did.
Among many things that Help! seems to lack would be a message it has to say about the Beatles. The whole film just seems to rely upon the Beatles doing more crazy things without really taking time to say anything in the name of their own fame. Most of the film’s humour comes from the Beatles themselves getting involved with numerous trope parodies whether it be a spy plot or a religious cult, and it only sets afoot a part of what’s wrong with Help! as a whole, all of these subplots ultimately mean nothing. There’s no interest being formed to make any of them worth the time, aside from a few mildly funny scenes coming then and there, but as a whole Help! never seems to present any sort of flow because it wanders from one subplot, abandons it, and then quickly moves to another.
Perhaps it might be my lack of fondness for the music on the album itself, but most of the songs included here aside from the title track only rang as forgettable. For how influential Help! may have been in being a start for what would develop into the eventual music video, one’s opinion of the songs will vary depending on what they think of the album of the same name. At their very best, The Beatles can provide something catchy to dance along with, but at their worst, it can’t be told what even is being said by their writing and the impact only feels lacking. A number of said issues I have with their worst songs (something that applies to half of their discography post-Revolver) only comes by once again and considering how the film as a whole seems to carry itself upon the music, all that seemed to have come by from Help! was something just as tedious as random subplots coming and going.
At the very least, the Beatles themselves are a joy to watch. Knowing what they have been able to show under Lester’s eyes with A Hard Day’s Night, they always carry the sort of energy that fans would want to see once again in Help!. Unfortunately the big problem with Help! arises from how it seems as if they have a background that is too large to work within, and thus they have no sense of direction to move from. Everywhere they move, they’re trying their best but because of the fact that there’s no way in knowing what Help! wishes to be, the most that these James Bond parodies end up becoming is tiresome. It may be charming, but it’s not done so in the same sense that A Hard Day’s Night had ended up managing to find its groove. Help! carries itself upon silliness and ridiculousness from the turn of events, and it seems like that’s what the film translates into humour. The case made clear here though, is that it doesn’t.
One’s own opinion of Help! will vary depending on how the viewer thinks of the music. Even though I’m very much a fan of the Beatles, the most that Help! rings just places it amongst my least favourite albums of theirs and this film only reinforces the way I feel about the music. It just seems to start somewhere, goes somewhere, doesn’t tell us, and eventually as it keeps going, the most that we end up feeling is incredibly tired. I was willing to give this one a chance based on my own love for A Hard Day’s Night because of the fact the Beatles themselves worked once again with director Richard Lester, but all that came back as a result was merely a reinforcement of my lack of fondness for the album of the same name. At the very least, it’s still a far better Beatles-related film than Across the Universe.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via MGM/UA.
Directed by Richard Lester
Screenplay by Marc Behm, Charles Wood
Produced by Walter Shenson
Starring John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr
Release Year: 1965
Running Time: 92 minutes