Quick – try and recite the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby (“picks up the rice in the church…”) Not so easy, is it? Imagine having to recount the music and lyrics to all the Beatles classics – or risk having them gone forever? That’s a dilemma central to the premise of Yesterday, a somewhat bland yet charming cinematic tribute to the Beatles – and to love, love, love.
Won’t you please, please help me… stop singing so I can tell you about the movie? Don’t let me down. Here goes:
Yesterday is a musical fantasy romantic dramedy about a struggling singer-songwriter named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, BBC’s EastEnders) who wakes up from a global blackout and bonk on the head to a world in which the Beatles don’t exist. Nobody’s ever heard of the Fab Four from Liverpool – or their music. Not even Google! Jack is gobsmacked. He’s also conflicted, as he starts passing off a treasure trove of Beatles tunes as his own. One of the songs even catches the attention of fellow English musician Ed Sheeran (nailing it as a version of himself), who invites Jack to open for him on tour. First stop: Russia, where Back in the USSR goes over particularly well. Jack rockets to stardom, endures a crisis of conscience, and risks losing the girl.
The film, from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 127 Hours, 28 Days Later) and acclaimed screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill) hits all the requisite notes about music, dreams, friendship and of course, navigating the long and winding road to love and happiness. But it doesn’t quite come together as a believable romantic drama, despite the presence of the talented and versatile Lily James (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Darkest Hour, Baby Driver; Cinderella) as Jack’s longtime friend, manager, driver, roadie, number-one fan and likely soulmate, Ellie. Seriously, in what universe would a smart, pretty and otherwise confident gal like Ellie pine away for a dude like Jack, and a dude like Jack not notice?? That plot point is almost harder to swallow than the vanishing Beatles.
Yesterday is at its most insightful and amusing when exploring how certain things from the past might be received today if presented in an entirely new and modern-day context. Like when a group of marketing yahoos worry that “The White Album” could evoke “some obvious diversity issues.” Or Jack’s hysterical nightmare of a Hollywood agent (Kate McKinnon, SNL) aims to package Jack and “his” music in a money-grubbing way that would surely make John, Paul, George and Ringo run for cover in a yellow submarine.
Overall, Yesterday is a sweet film that doesn’t quite get where it needs to go to be all that memorable tomorrow. It will, however, put a slew of Beatles earworms in your head. And that’s something in its own right. So I’ll just let it be.