Dir: Danny Boyle
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino, Ellise Chappell, and Kate McKinnon
I have spent enough time perusing the aisles of record stores throughout my life that it’s pretty easy to identify which store clerk is the Beatles fan. The amount of reverence for John, Paul, George, and Ringo is almost always the same too, it’s a feeling of admiration and honor for a musical group that many critics consider the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time.
Sir Paul McCartney recently played a show locally; radio stations curated their playlists to day-long Beatles’ music, generations of music fans heading to social media to discuss their connection to Paul and the band, even the state highway department customized their safety banners to clever song lyrics with quips like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On...If You Slow Down”. It was amazing to see during the course of one day just how much of a cultural influence/phenomenon the Beatles are and will continue to be.
Director Danny Boyle (“127 Hours” and “Slumdog Millionaire”) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (“Love Actually” and “Notting Hill”) take the influence of the Fab Four and pose the question, “what if the Beatles never existed?”. “Yesterday” is a unique idea wrapped up in an overly familiar structure, still, it’s a charming little tale that is going for all those feel-good vibes you are expecting.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer/songwriter with a decent voice and a personality that is suited for a moody artist who plays tunes alone on stage with just their guitar. Jack decides to quit his pursuits as a musician and return to being a school teacher, but his best friend/road manager/chauffeur/biggest fan Ellie (Lily James) convinces him to keep the dream alive. While riding his bike home after yet another failed gig, Jack has a traffic accident at the very moment the entire world undergoes a power outage. When he awakens, the Beatles have been erased from history.
“Yesterday” has an ingenious premise that brings about a nice mixture of humor and a heartfelt homage to the myth and renowned catalog of the Beatles. The question “what happened if the Beatles never existed” is well-worn throughout the composition of the world being built in the film; we are shown the extent of the band’s influence beyond just their music but also blending into the cultural, social, and political landscape throughout time. It’s consistently amusing, sometimes quite funny, even when the film fades into the derivative narrative components associated with a love story angle and the common thematic arc of the rise and fall of the struggling artist.
What helps the romantic approach is the performance from Lily James who is simply the charm and heart that keeps the relationship between Jack and Ellie have such a genuine sentiment.
Himesh Patel does a decent job as Jack but unfortunately, the character development feels somewhat one-note in terms of Jack’s overall motivation and conflict resolution between love and success in the end. Fortunately, Mr. Patel does a better job as an artist singing some of the most famous songs in music history, that’s the most daunting task of the film.
“Yesterday” doesn’t try to over-explain anything with its premise; we are never informed of the “why” or “how” of everything, which is a good thing because it helps the film retain its crowd-pleasing charm. While it will be easy to ask questions that will effortlessly poke holes in the narrative once you have a chance to step away from the film. Still, if you love the Beatles and are looking for one of the highlight feel-good movies of 2019, “Yesterday” will have you singing.
3.50 out of 5.00