What would happen if you woke up one day and just one seemingly ubiquitous thing had vanished off the face of the earth? As far as thought experiments go, this formula can lead to a variety of paths, most of them worth a bit of digging. However, what would happen if the Beatles vanished off the face of the earth and the answer was told by a cheque-cashing Danny Boyle, based on yet another formulaic screenplay by Richard Curtis? Well, you get Yesterday, a film that refuses to take any risks, preferring cinematic stereotypes and clichés.
Yesterday tells the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling musician who wakes up after an accident to find that he is the only one who has any recollection of the Beatles. So, of course, he begins playing their music as his own, leading to a successful career, which makes him have to re-examine his priorities. In and of itself, this is an interesting, albeit flawed, premise—what happens to the bands inspired by the Beatles? Do people in this timeline think Oasis is an original band? How could music that flourished in the 1960s succeed as new music? How does someone become as big as the Beatles in 2019?—but the issue is that no one cares to play with it. Instead, the audience receives “desperate musician scenes” followed by the “fun recording session scene”, the “big stadium scene”, the “hopeless romantic scene”, and a variety of other “scenes” you have seen much better examples of. By the time Jack and his love interest run through an empty tunnel, occasionally spinning, you may find yourself with a dizzying sense of déjà vu.
On top of all that, the film frequently comes off as propagandistic and revisionist. A big part of the plot seems to revolve around the idea that modern music is all about image, while the Beatles (the untouchable, unquestionable single greatest band who ever existed, apparently) were all about the music. However, Yesterday somehow completely forgets about the very image-conscious appeal that led to Beatlemania. This blind spot leads to the film’s slow downfall, despite its mockery of mainstream appeal.
If you do find yourself being forced to see this nonsense in the cinema, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. SNL MVP Kate McKinnon almost makes the film worthwhile with her performance as Debra Hammer, the abrasive manager who makes Jack famous. Of the limited laughs in this film, all but three of them belong to McKinnon – reminding the world why she needs to be in every film that promises comedy.
Yesterday doesn’t fill any particular niche and will be forgotten about ten minutes after you leave the cinema. If you do find yourself thinking about it afterwards, there is a fairly good chance you will be thinking about McKinnon…or the film’s inconsistencies.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam