Dan's Review: "Yesterday" a beautiful love letter to The Beatles
Jun 27, 2019 09:47PM
By Dan Metcalf
Himesh Patel in Yesterday - © 2019 Universal Pictures.
Yesterday (Universal Pictures)
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.
Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Lamorne Morris, Sophia Di Martino, Joel Fry, Ellise Chappell, Harry Michell, Camille Chen, Alexander Arnold, James Corden, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Karl Theobald.
Written by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth.
Directed by Danny Boyle.
Perhaps more so than any other musical group, there is probably no more significant phenomenon than The Beatles. Their music transcends time, culture, generations, and other genres, influential to so many other artists and social norms. To imagine a world without The Beatles would require a lot of retroactive reasoning and dismissal of logical outcomes. Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’ new film Yesterday takes this feat on unapologetically as a romantic comedy.
Set in modern-day England, it’s the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a former school teacher and failed musician who is hit by a bus during a worldwide solar flare that erases The Beatles from existence. After healing from his injuries, Jack plays a few Beatles songs for his best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) who immediately appreciates their quality and value. After a few failed attempts to relaunch Jack’s musical career using the Beatles’ songs, Ed Sheeran (playing himself) takes notice and invites the unknown singer to join him as an opening act on a tour of Russia. From there, Jack’s career takes off, especially with the help of Debra (Kate McKinnon), a sleazy music producer who works with Sheeran. Jack goes to Los Angeles and begins to record more songs as people begin to question the authenticity and origins of “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “My Life,” “Let it Be,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Penny Lane,”etc., Beatles songs inspired by real-life places and experiences of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Born and raised in Suffolk, Jack seeks to have his own Liverpool experiences and travels back to England where he meets up with Ellie, who expresses her romantic feelings and confirms her desire to move out of the “friend zone.” But duty calls and Jack has to travel back to L.A. before launching his big first album. As his fame rises, Jack is forced to face the ethical dilemma of using someone else’s work for his own fame and fortune, along with sharing his true feelings for Ellie. This dilemma leads to a drastic decision that will change the face of music and Jack’s life forever.
There are a lot of logistical problems with Yesterday’s story construction, up to and including the resolution of Jack’s quandary over stealing The Beatles’ music, not to mention the domino effect you’d expect from erasing the Beatles from existence. Yesterday’s primary conundrum is the reality that The Beatles inspired so many other musical careers, up to and including Ed Sheeran himself, not to mention other acts that still exist in the movie’s setting. Yesterday overcomes these time-space enigmas with a fantastic acting and musical debut of Himesh Patel, whose voice talent is more than adequate to perform The Beatles’ vast catalog of beautiful songs. He’s also very charming and funny as a man forced to deal with a lot of strange occurrences. Lily James is her usual enchanting self, even though her beautiful voice is relegated to performing a few harmonies in Jack’s first recordings. I was less enamored with Kate McKinnon’s performance which starts out just fine as an opportunistic music executive, but by the end of the film, she digresses into making her usual silly faces and transforms into a cartoonish villain. One of the funniest recurring gags in Yesterday is Jack’s discovery that there are few other things that disappeared, including a certain soft drink, a common vice, and a few other pop culture icons. The movie never really reconciles what happened to all The Beatles’ band members, (except one), nor figures out a clean exit from the alternate universe.
Again, these are minor pitfalls for a movie that is, in the end, a beautiful love letter to The Beatles and their music, proving the worth of their artistic and cultural contributions of the mid-to-late 20th Century.
In other words, Yesterday is all about the music that defined a generation. Perhaps love isn’t all we need, but Yesterday proves it’s still one of the best parts of life.