Written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle, Yesterday is about struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who decides to give up music after several poorly attended performances, which are supported only by his few friends and caring manager Ellie (Lily James), but after a 12 second global blackout, during which time Jack gets hit by a bus, he later discovers that virtually no-one on Earth has any knowledge of The Beatles any more and after a period of confusion, Jack decides to use the situation to his advantage and begins playing the songs of The Beatles, soon getting “discovered” and propelling him to worldwide stardom. But as his success increases, Jack starts to feel guilty about passing other people’s work off as his own, afraid of being found out, and more importantly, he grows increasingly distant from his good friend Ellie and soon begins to realise that he has strong feelings for her.
Getting straight into it, I assume that the general consensus on this film is that it’s a perfectly pleasant, charming and fun experience but that it kind of mishandles its central concept and stretches it a bit thin over the course of its runtime. And on this, I agree because I enjoyed Yesterday as I found it to be a warm hearted film with many funny lines (it actually made me laugh a little so extra points for that) and a really lovely cast, but as it heads into the third act, the novelty wears off a little as it risks outstaying its welcome and we begin to see that the idea of a world without The Beatles could’ve been expanded on further, with a little
help from my friends bit more thought put into the script.
But looking at the positives, the idea at the heart of Yesterday is certainly an original one and it’s refreshing to see a thoughtful film like this in a world of remakes and reboots; the fact that the global blackout and subsequent anomaly isn’t explained didn’t bother me at all and the film does a good job in showing Jack trying to remember all the Beatles songs and recalling just how they all go, rather than have him miraculously know every single line and note (though he does a suspiciously above average job anyway) and at the beginning, it’s fun to watch him try and recall all their hits and have particular trouble in remembering the words and story of “Eleanor Rigby”. We also see how modern audiences wouldn’t immediately take to the songs of the Fab Four when Jack first performs the songs at several small venues or performing “Let it Be” in front of his less-than-enthusiatic parents, in a truly smile inducing, though anti-climactic, “unveiling” of this great work of art and even though the songs do indeed make him a global superstar, the realistic idea of Beatles songs not being immediately adored was a very nice touch and makes the film particularly authentic and interesting. And on the flip side, it’s nice to see how Jack’s friends react positively to an acoustic performance of “Yesterday” and the accompanying pleasant visuals reinforce the idea of just how wonderful The Beatles’ songs were.
The film is also a winner because of its lovely cast and in the leading role, Himesh Patel carries the film on his shoulders quite brilliantly, giving us a protagonist that is perfectly credible, likeable and relatable, yet flawed, and Patel also takes on many different Beatles songs quite brilliantly – singing the well known hits very well and playing them with passion on both guitar and piano. And accompanying Patel, the always luminous and charming Lily James is . . . well, luminous and charming as the lovely, lovestruck Ellie – an ideally empathetic and supportable love interest and through the chemistry between her and Patel, it’s perfectly easy to root for their quintessentially Curtis-esque relationship and they both give the film its heart and soul.
Alongside, Joel Fry is really quite excellent and genuinely very funny in the best friend role of Rocky the roadie and though it would be easy for him to simply be “the clueless, drug taking comic relief”, Fry’s Rocky is a genuine pleasure to see in the film and like Patel and James, he gives the film a lot of heart and provides most of the laughs. We also have the incomparable Kate McKinnon as the ruthless music manager and she plays her in the classic McKinnon way, complete with those famous facial expressions of hers, and gives us a memorably slimy, nasty and constantly rude side character who injects some conflict and energy into the film. Real life married couple Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal are also fun as Jack’s parents and the actors who play Jack and Ellie’s friends are also great additions.
And I even liked watching Ed Sheeran in this film. True, his delivery is a little rough around the edges but overall, he was downright decent in this film. There, I said it.
The main negative aspect of this film, as some others have pointed out, is that although Yesterday introduces a very interesting premise with its “what if The Beatles never existed” setup, this story idea eventually runs out of steam as the film goes past the halfway point and the notion is ultimately stretched pretty thinly over the film’s runtime and it never explores the premise as well as it could have, deciding to dedicate more time to Jack’s character journey and his relationship with Ellie, rather than examining The Beatles’ full influence on the rest of the world. Also because of this, the film goes through minor pacing issues as it’s never quite sure on how to end and the film also points out that things like Oasis, Harry Potter, Coca Cola and even cigarettes never existed but these additions are quite unnecessary and only serve to “muddy the waters” of the film’s storytelling. And finally, when it comes to the musical performances, director Danny Boyle never truly captures the magic of the songs, though his direction is admirable in other areas, and he doesn’t make them seem particularly special – though maybe I’m not well versed enough in Beatles songs to be commenting on that. But I do think that Jack’s version of “Help” was far too fast, shouty and “instrument heavy”, though maybe that was the point.