2019, PG-13, 112 mins.
Himesh Patel as Jack Malik / Lily James as Ellie Appleton / Ed Sheeran as Ed Sheeran / Kate McKinnon as Debra Hammer / Camille Chen as Wendy / Maryana Spivak as Alexa / Lamorne Morris as Head of Marketing / James Corden as James Corden
Directed by Danny Boyle / Written by Richard Curtis
YESTERDAY is a new musical dramatic fantasy that has one terrific hook:
What if you
woke up one day and discovered that The Beatles never existed.
Now, just let
that settle in for a second.
Just imagine the
musical landscape of the last several decades without the work of the Fab
Four. Their work was not just
music, kind of like how STAR WARS
was not just a movie. If
erased from history, the ripple effects of The Beatles' influence on
multiple generations of musicians would have, in turn, never existed.
It's positively mind boggling to ponder, which is part of the
insatiable allure of YESTERDAY, which is the brain child of the cinematic
dream team of director Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG
and writer Richard Curtis (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, NOTTING HILL), and
together they enthusiastically craft an undeniable crowd pleasing charmer
with, yes, a huge bounty of music that is now legendary.
The central premise of the film has an endlessly compelling reach,
and Boyle and Curtis have fun with it, even though the story starts
running out of creative gas in the late stages.
Yet, YESTERDAY's alluring blend of romantic comedy, musical drama,
and pure fantasy makes for a fairly enthralling cocktail that's awfully
hard to hate, despite its missteps at times
The film is made
all the more delectably watchable because of its inordinately appealing
lead actors as well, chief among them Himesh Patel, who plays Jack, a down
on his luck musician that ekes out an existence in a very remote area of
England that's been struggling for years to make it as a songwriter and
singer. He has talent and
drive, just not a serious following, and when he's not working a soul
crushing retail job he's desperately trying to get his name out there
while playing one dog of a gig after another.
He's starting to hit absolute emotional rock bottom and is ready to
give up on his dreams, but his lifelong BFF and manager in Ellie ( the
absolutely luminous Lily James) has steadfastly stood by her man through
every embarrassing career ordeal. Even
when Jack is playing to nearly empty venues, Ellie is always there for him
to nurture his talents and ensure him that his time will eventually come.
though, Jack has had enough of the constant stream of career rejection and
is on the verge of quitting forever, but his life changes forever when,
during a fateful bike ride home one evening, he's accidentally struck by a
truck during a rather convenient worldwide power blackout that lasts
exactly 12 seconds. He
manages to survive the hellish ordeal, but begins to notice that something
is...well...off during his recovery stay in hospital.
He makes a pretty specific reference to a Beatles song to Ellie,
which oddly eludes her. Even
stranger is when he meets up with her and a few of their friends after his
hospital stay, which builds to him receiving a new guitar from them as a
get well gift. He plays Paul
McCartney's "Yesterday" for them, which moves them nearly to
tears. Jack is perplexed by their soulful reaction to his cover, but he
becomes shocked when all of them reveal that they have never heard the
song before, or - GASP! - The Beatles.
learns to his dismay that The Beatles have been completely wiped from
existence, which has something to do with that aforementioned worldwide
power outage. His fears are
concerned when even very specific Google searches for the group only bares
images of insects. Even
though the thought of a world without The Beatles and their music is
impossibly awful to think about, Jack hatches a rather ingenious, if not
fiendish, plan. Going on pure
memory, he decides to write down the lyrics to as many Beatles songs as
possible and begins performing them to friends and family, and later
begins testing them out in front of crowds.
Needlessly to say, Jack becomes an overnight sensation and one of
the biggest acts in the world, but his work is an act of desperate
forgery. He even attracts the attention of a power and money hungry
agent (Kate McKinnon), who promises to make him more powerful and richer
than he can possibly imagine...that is if he relocates from England to
L.A.. He begrudgingly opts
to, even though it creates huge wedges in his professional and personal
relationship with Ellie, who can't bring herself to leave her home and
family behind in England.
aspects of YESTERDAY occur in its early stages, when the dumbfounded Jack
fully begins to grasp the limitless magnitude of The Beatles being
completely eradicated from popular existence in the new alternate reality
he finds himself in post-blackout and accident. And it's not just music that's been affected, but other
aspects of culture as well (apparently, cigarettes, Harry Potter, and Coke
don't existence anymore either). Artistic
plagiarism is indefensible, to be sure, but the tantalizing predicament
that Jack finds himself in is pretty rich: If no one has ever heard of
John, Paul, George and Ringo and no one has ever heard any of their music,
how would anyone call him out for being a phony it he used their catalogue
for career and financial gain? Jack
also isn't a money grubbing cynic. He
worships at the altar of this band, and re-introducing their music to a
new world is equal parts preservation of an integral part of music
history...and, yes...a way to become a sensation.
works well at times as a pretty spot on and hilarious satire of the
contemporary music industry. As Jack becomes bigger and bigger he finds himself at odds
with his new manager that wants to pervert his image and sell him as
something he's not comfortable with at all.
Even more noteworthy is a sly, yet sobering scene with Jack
attending a vast marketing meeting with an advertising firm filled with
hopelessly out of touch executives that inform him that market research
has revealed that, for example, the titles he has picked for his new
albums (all lifted from actual Beatles albums) are wretched (The White
Album, for instance, speaks badly towards diversity).
In one hysterical sequence, Jack is convinced by Ed Sheeran
(playing himself in a very self-deprecating cameo) that he should change
the title of "Hey Jude" to the vastly more obnoxious sounding
"Hey Dude." Sheeran
is front and center in one of the better moments in the film when he
watches Jack belt out "Back in the U.S.S.R" in front of a
Russian audience, with Sheeran sheepishly bowing to Jack's greater skills.
"You're Mozart and I'm Salieri."
performances here help sell this film's frankly out there premise.
Patel's a pretty gifted vocalist that provides many flattering
renditions of cherished Beatles tunes, not to mention that he makes his
character extremely likeable and empathetic despite the fact that he's
faking his way to success and an absolute fraud.
He has really superb, unforced chemistry with James, whose face has
appeared in a film that the camera has not loved.
She's also quite thanklessly natural playing what's otherwise a
pretty stale love interest on pure autopilot in the story, which leads me
to one of my criticisms with YESTERDAY.
Considering their film's wonderfully wacky and innovative premise,
Boyle and Curtis pepper the narrative with an awful lot of overused romcom
clichés. Far too often than
not, the film seems more interested in trudging down well worn genre
conventions with Jack and Ellie's on again, off again relationship status,
which is nowhere near as intoxicating as world building the flip side
universe presented here sans The Beatles.
Patel and James are undeniable cute together on screen, but the
stakes of the story they populate really seem bigger than their obligatory
and formulaic romance.
This all builds to an unavoidable feel-good conclusion that seems a bit forced (that, and Boyle and Curtis regrettably let their film implode in the final 15 minutes or so in an extremely rushed sense of dramatic closure). Lastly, YESTERYEAR didn't dig as deeply as it should have in terms of its reality bending premise, and the ramifications having no Beatles in this twisted existence as to how it would affect music as a whole is kind of sidestepped, minus a few well timed gags. I also started doubting Jack's super human ability to remember every single lyric from nearly every Beatles tune by heart, which never seems credible (granted, he does stumble with recollecting a few more obscure songs). Still, I found the magical weirdness of this film's premise and its what if possibilities to be agreeably entertaining, even if the final product doesn't click into the higher gears that I was expecting with the partnership of Boyle and Curtis. And let's not forget all of the film's infectiously toe tapping renditions of The Beatles' most revered catalogue of hits. Leaving the cinema post screening, I found it haunting to think of how much worse off our world would be without them. It would leave countless generations of guitars gently weeping.