Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry
Written by: Richard Curtis
Running time: 108 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content and language)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release date: June 27, 2019
Imagine you are an aspiring singer-songwriter (and maybe you are!). One day you wake up in a world where you are the only person who remembers the Beatles. What do you do? Do you share the band’s iconic discography with the world only to take all the credit for yourself? It’s a fascinating ethical dilemma, but one which Academy Award-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) only seems mildly interested in exploring with his latest film Yesterday.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) loves to sing and play the guitar. When he’s not stocking shelves at his local supermarket, Jack sings Beatles tunes at children’s parties. That is until one fateful night when a twelve second blackout engulfs the world in darkness. During that brief time, Jack is struck by a bus. He eventually comes to in a world where Paul, John, Ringo and George never formed his favorite band and when Jack asks about them, nobody has any idea what he’s talking about.
In no time at all, Jack is frantically browsing the web for any breadcrumb of evidence that might suggest his idols are still around. To his existential dread, the Beatles aren’t the only thing that time’s forgotten. It’s an amusing sequence which highlights just how funny Yesterday can be.
Appropriately enough, my biggest issue with Yesterday resembles the biggest issue I had with Beatles music growing up. It took a long time for me to warm up to them and even then I never grew to love them like so many people do (I’m much more of a Stones guy). Once Jack decides he’s going to re-write all the Beatles’ songs for this “Walrus-less” reality, the next 45 minutes are dedicated to his rising stardom and ultimately the elitist over-sentimentalization of the iconic band. (There’s not a single soul across this universe, be they an elderly mother or excitable millennial, who isn’t immediately brought to tears by the gentle stokes of Yesterday or elated by the bouncing melody of Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.) In this time, Jack mostly comes across as an overly-serious, self-righteous snob and it’s difficult to see why the people in his life love him as much as they do.
It’s not until the back half of the film that Richard Curtis’s (About Time, War Horse) script shifts its focus from literally singing the Beatles praises to the inner turmoil brewing within Jack. The guilt he bares for plagiarizing his heroes’ work finally begins manifesting itself in visually interesting ways and the long-standing romantic tension between Jack and his best friend /manager Ellie (Lily James) is brought to the surface. Yesterday is never better than in these moments, when Patel and James are on screen together. Even as the hopeful couple engaged in cliche “will we? won’t we?” exchanges, I couldn’t resist their infectious chemistry. Lily James in particular is a real charmer.
SNL‘s own Kate McKinnon makes a fittingly tongue-in-cheek appearance as the obligatory big wig music rep who’s way more concerned about being able to afford houses on the Malibu beachfront than treating people with respect. Like everything else in this film, it took a while for me to warm up to the character.
Yesterday is equal parts fantastical and frustrating. What had me shaking my head in disgust eventually had me singing a whole different tune by the end.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five)
Do you plan on checking out Yesterday? If you already have, what did you think of it? Jump down to the comments section below and sing me a sweet melody of your thoughts!