By: Jessica Goddard
Yesterday offers a fun hypothetical situation, and if you don’t overthink it, you’ll enjoy this movie as a tribute to the Beatles’ legacy. Spattered with modern Beatles covers and commentary on the ways the music industry has transformed since those songs were written, the film explores what might happen if one struggling singer-songwriter were suddenly the only person to remember the work of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
After deciding once-and-for-all to give up on music forever, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is knocked off his bicycle at the exact moment an inexplicable worldwide blackout occurs. Once he’s released from the hospital, it gradually becomes apparent that no one has ever heard of the Beatles, and all evidence of their influence has evaporated overnight. Seeing an opportunity, Jack repurposes the existing material from memory, and before long finds the success he’s always dreamt of. But Jack has a thing for his longtime friend and manager Ellie (Lily James), and it gets complicated when she’s unable to join him on the road and is amicably replaced by industry expert and starmaker Debra (a delightfully crooked Kate McKinnon).
Danny Boyle’s film – which probably ought to be called All You Need Is Love – is much less interested in pursuing all the possibilities of the intriguing “What if” scenario, and is more interested in setting up a conventional romantic plot that doesn’t fully satisfy.
The only time it’s addressed that maybe the Beatles’ struck a particular chord at a particular time is when Ed Sheeran (playing himself) suggests that “Hey Jude” would work better as “Hey Dude”. The scene is an honest stab at comedy, but strangely the film’s only acknowledgement that some of the Beatles’ work may not make a lot of sense without the mythos of The Fab Four for context.
Also working against Yesterday is its seemingly shallow adoration for Beatles lore – compared to a peer like Across the Universe (2007), which throws down charming Beatles references left, right, and center – ultimately coming down to a lack of passion (or perhaps laziness) on the part of writer Richard Curtis.
However, this is a lighthearted movie with a unique premise and earnest performances. There is one scene (likely to be controversial) which blew me away, and I expect I will continue thinking about it for weeks to come. While it’s probably not best practice to rate a film against its contemporaries, in a summer full of sequels and remakes, Yesterday stands out as a step back in the right direction. It’s definitely no revolution, but it won’t let you down if you let it be the whimsical romantic comedy it wants to be.
Read Shahbaz Khayambashi’s review of Yesterday
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod