Imagine a world without The Beatles? Yes, it seems impossible, but in Danny Boyle’s quirky musical romantic-comedy this is the reality that aspiring singer-songwriter Jack Malik has found himself in.
Played by the delightfully charismatic and talented Himesh Patel, Jack Malik is an aspiring musician in Essex, England. By his side is the always faithful Ellie (Lily James) who doubles as Jack’s manager and number one fan. After a string of failed performances, Jack considers quitting the pursuit of ‘making it’. That is until a freak accident involving electricity short-circuiting all over the world for 12-seconds, and being hit by a bus cause him to the be the only man in the world who remembers The Beatles – and their insanely popular music.
What would you do if you were the only person to recall all of The Beatles’ greatest hits? This is an insane premise that barely gets by, but the combination of Danny Boyle’s and Richard Curtis’ determination to make the premise work, and a terrific leading star, the movie allows you to believe that such a world can exist.
Admittedly, there are times where Curtis’ script and Boyle’s directing pushes the boundaries of believability with one or two odd choices, but ultimately what is on-screen works, even though it really shouldn’t. Boyle does the impossible task of balancing a big idea like creating a world without The Beatles (and a few other cultural phenomenons) and a typical melodrama about the sacrifices one makes for superstardom. There are moments that feel like movie is losing in this balancing act, but the it manages to stay alive by leaning into the absurd charm of this strange world.
Whether it was the goal or not, Yesterday is a movie that showcases how influential and beloved The Beatles are, and how sad the world seems without them. Don’t worry the movie is still lively and jovial, but it does make you appreciate the power of good and wholesome art. The kind of art that unites people and infects our lives in ways we don’t really see until we are confronted with a reality without it.
At the heart of this zany musical rom-com is the romance between James’ Ellie and Patel’s Jack. The central romance unfolds beautifully, which is to be expected from the legendary Richard Curtis who has scripted romantic classics such as: Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and Funeral, and About Time. However, it is frustrating to have the always delightful Lily James as the love interest and never level her up past the doting girl-next-door type; which is not entirely unexpected from a Curtis rom-com. Nothing inventive is done with Ellie, but James imbues her her own inherent charm which brings life to a rather flat character. Opposite her is the star himself, who deserves every second of screen time he gets. Patel proves to not only be a wonderful leading man in a romantic sense, but he also proves to be a great leading man. Period.
Yesterday very much is its own A Star is Born (minus the dark stuff), because it is difficult to not to be enamoured with rising star Jack Malik (as well as Patel himself). Both have been in seemingly similar circumstances – living in obscurity, and finally getting their big shot. Hopefully, the industry doesn’t fail Patel as it has done for many breakout stars who are not of the white male variety. As Jack’s star rises, he makes mistakes and fumbles his way through this absurd scenario, but Patel’s sincerity saves Jack from being an unbearable individual (who does a rather horrible thing). Patel is naturally gifted with great comedic timing and an earnestness that has you rooting for Jack from the very beginning. As the movie unfolds we truly see a star being born, within and outside the world of the film.
There is very little to critique about Yesterday, except that the central plot point is a fact that never really gets explained. We are just made to accept the reality that is being presented, and that may or may not be enough for audiences. Despite that, anyone one with basic knowledge of The Beatles will likely be swept up in this charming fantasy.
Boyle is a very professional director who knows what the script demands of him. Any other director may not have been able to strike the balance between fantasy and reality. He knows all the right moments to throw in visual flairs to remind us of the fantasy, and when not to ground us in a recognizable reality. Curtis is a veteran screenwriter who somehow succeeds in putting all these pieces together into one cohesive story. The film never veers too far into being a medley or montage of The Beatles’ greatest hits; there is actually a story and characters to follow. Kate McKinnon’s money-obsessed manager is perhaps the only performance and character that threatens to upend all the effort to make this work. Again, the balancing act is difficult to maintain, but Yesterday comes out of it okay.
Yesterday has a lot of great elements that come together against all odds. Thanks in large part to Boyle’s energetic directing, Curtis’ clever script, the universal adoration of The Beatles, terrific performances from everyone on screen, and the star-turning performance from Patel. Yesterday is unique, charming, and an all-around good time.
Yesterday arrives in North American theaters on June 28, 2019.