It’s a bit of an odd film, Yesterday is.
Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a singer-songwriter who has struggled to find much success. The only person who believes in him is his manager, a school teacher named Ellie Appleton (Lily James). (Given the film’s subject matter, Ellie’s last name is a significant one.) One night, the entire world is hit by a brief blackout. Jack misses most of the excitement because he’s in a coma, having been hit by a bus.
When Jack wakes up from his coma, he’s shocked to discover that he’s lost several teeth and now looks kind of silly whenever he speaks, sings, or even smiles. However, he also eventually discovers that he is now apparently the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles!
Somehow (it’s never explained how), that global blackout changed history. It’s not that the Beatles ceased to exist as individuals. In one of the film’s more affecting scenes, Jack drives out to the country and meets John Lennon (Robert Carlyle), who never became a superstar and who, as a result, was never assassinated. However, in this new world, the Beatles never came together as a group and, as a result, some of the most beloved songs in history were never written. Only Jack knows the lyrics and music for Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, The Long and Riding Road, Let It Be, Back in the USSR, and …. well, everything!
(Oddly enough, the Beatles no longer existing has also led to several other things no longer existing. It’s impossible not to laugh when Jack discovers that, without the Beatles, there was never an Oasis. At the same time, there’s also no Coke or Harry Potter books. I guess the Beatles weren’t around to inspire J.K. Rowling but why Coke would vanish is a bit more confusing. Since Coke predates the Beatles by a century, perhaps the the film is less about how strange the world is without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and instead about how we owe everything good in the world to John Pemberton.)
Needless to say, this leads to Jack becoming a huge star. He’s soon touring with Ed Sheeran and recording his debut album. And yet, through it all, Jack is haunted by the fact that the music isn’t truly his. Will Jack continue to plagiarize his way to stardom? And will Jack and Ellie ever realize that they’re in love and totally meant to be together? Watch to find out, I suppose!
As I said at the start of this review, Yesterday is a bit of an odd film. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, it’s a meeting of two talents that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to compliment each other. Surprisingly enough, though, the mix of Curtis’s sentimentality and Boyle’s more subversive instincts works well. This is to especially be found in the scene where Jack meets John Lennon. On paper, the scene shouldn’t work but it does work because Boyle is enough of a contrarian to direct his actors to play the scene with a wistful sadness. The script may have intended the scene to prove that Lennon would have found happiness no matter what but Boyle directs it as if to say, “It probably would have been better for John if the Beatles has never existed….” Stylistically, Boyle is too much of a cheerful anarchist to fully embrace Curtis’s romcom-style love of the Beatles. At the same time, Curtis’s more earnest dialogue often undercuts Boyle’s more excessive instincts. The end result is a sweet-natured movie with an edge.
Making his feature film debut, Himsh Patel is likable as Jack, even if he doesn’t quite have rock star charisma. (Then again, that’s also a part of the film’s humor. On his own, Jack is destined to forever be the opening act, the acceptable performer who is forgotten as soon as the headliners show up. It’s only after the Beatles are wiped from everyone’s memory that Jack is able to become a star.) Lily James does her best with an underwritten role and Ed Sheeran plays a hilariously vapid version of himself.
Yesterday is a good-natured tribute to the power of music and one band in particular.