A struggling musician realizes he's the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.
Release Date: June 28, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG-13
A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenwriters: Richard Curtis, Jack Barth
Producers: Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson
Cast: Himesh Patel (Jack Malik), Lily James (Ellie Appleton), Joel Fry (Rocky), Ed Sheeran (Himself), Alexander Arnold (Gavin), Kate McKinnon (Debra Hammer), Sophia D Martino (Carol), Ellise Chappell (Lucy), Harry Michell (Nick)
Editor: Jon Harris
Cinematographer: Christopher Ross
Production Designer: Patrick Rolfe
Casting Directors: Courtney Bright, Nicole Daniels. Gail Stevens
Music Score: Daniel Pemberton
Going back and changing the past is one of the unwritten rules of the time travel movie. You just don’t do it. But what if the past changed itself? That is the moral dilemma that director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) explores in Yesterday.
Yesterday is about a struggling musician named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel from “EastEnders”) who is thinking about throwing in the towel on his music career when an unexplained 12 second global blackout causes him to get hit by a bus. When he recovers from his injuries, he discovers that he is the only person in the world who remembers the music of The Beatles. So Jack does what any other fledgling artist would do; he claims the greatest songs ever written as his own. And becomes an overnight superstar in the process. But success comes with a hefty price tag, especially when the gains are ill-gotten.
The premise behind Yesterday is brilliant. Screenwriters Richard Curtis (Love Actually, War Horse) and Jack Barth (“The Fabulous Picture Show”) blend an absurd concept with an ethical conflict, and the resulting storyline just begs the question: What would you do?
The movie starts out promisingly enough, with Jack first figuring out that he has the keys to the castle, then struggling to remember the chords and lyrics to the hits that he has heard thousands of times over. His rise to fame includes becoming a viral sensation with “his” songs, getting a leg up from pop star Ed Sheeran (who plays himself), and, finally, scoring a huge contract with the help of Ed’s agent, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon from Ghostbusters). But the whole time, Jack struggles with his secret, and the constant worry that he’ll be caught, that he may not be the only one who remembers the songs.
That’s the awesome part of the Yesterday. Things get a little bogged down with the requisite forced love story that gets manufactured between Jack and his childhood friend/manager Ellie (Baby Driver’s Lily James). This romantic angle provides the only real conflict in the movie that exists outside of Jack’s conscience, and it leads to a predictably cutesy third act that wraps everything up just a bit too cleanly.
Well, maybe it’s not that predictable and clean. There are some fun surprises in store for Jack on his journey. But by the time it all winds down, Yesterday is very safe. Which is fine. It’s enjoyable enough, with great music and a terrific lead performance from Himesh Patel. The good in the movie definitely outweighs the mediocre. But the mediocre is pretty eye-rolling.
Of course, the music in Yesterday is incredible. How could it not be? It’s The Beatles. There’s not enough time in the movie for every single track to get a needle drop, so Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis carefully chose their battles, picking tunes from every era of The Beatles’ musical evolution, from “I Saw Her Standing There” and “She Loves You” to “Here Comes the Sun” and “The Long and Winding Road.” And every song not only represents a musical period for The Beatles, but also a stage of Jack’s career.
Himesh Patel performed the songs himself for the movie, and his catalogue of music has as distinct of an arc as his character. He first discovers that he’s the only one who remembers The Beatles when he performs “Yesterday” for his friends, and they ask him when he had the time to write it. His first show with Ed Sheeran is in Moscow, so he whips the crowd into a frenzy with “Back in the U.S.S.R.” When he starts to struggle with his success, he belts out an angry rendition of “Help!” (from a rooftop, of course). As a performer, Patel’s versions aren’t as polished as the original songs, but that’s the point. He’s essentially a cover artist taking credit for someone else’s work, and Patel makes that distinction in his wide-eyed performances of the music.
While Yesterday is a very funny movie, most of the humor is caused by the pieces of culture that are lost in the 12 second blackout. It’s not just the music of The Beatles that is forgotten, and other people’s reactions of “what?” when Jack mentions things that they have never heard of are hilarious, each and every time. Jack’s attempts at remembering lyrics to songs like “Penny Lane” and “Eleanor Rigby” are fun, too, as are the snippets of life that trigger his memories (Jack laughs triumphantly when his dentist uses the phrase “With a Little Help From My Friends”). It seems a little one-note at times, but the comedy in Yesterday hits its mark, time after time.