There seems to be a big trend in Hollywood of late to make movies around classic rock artists and tell their stories (and ultimately, their iconic music) to new audiences while allowing older people to relive the nostalgia of a bygone era. When I first heard of the movie Yesterday, I was suspecting it to just be another Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, but once the first trailer dropped, I could see that it was turning into something else entirely – and perhaps for the better.
Yesterday is directed by Danny Boyle and that is all you need to know to understand that this film is going to be unique. It’s not just that the unusual Boyle camera angles and off-beat style come to the fore, but also the fact that it doesn’t really adhere to any genre tropes at all, referring to itself as a Jukebox Musical Fantasy, though it may be more of a straight-up comedy at heart. Outside of that, you would be hard-pressed to fit Yesterday into any conventional category.
Yesterday follows the story of a struggling musician Jack Malick (Himesh Patel) who on one strange night where the entire world suffers a blackout, is hit by a bus and left in a coma for a short while. When he wakes up, he discovers that the world has forgotten certain popular icons and most importantly The Beatles, whose music no one knows. He now realises that he has the perfect opportunity to get that fame he so desperately craves by trying to recreate as much of the Beatles music as he can from memory to a world that has never known some of the greatest songs in history.
The film definitely has some sci-fi elements to it regarding the strange blackout, but the interesting thing about the movie is that it never tries to explain to or even fix it. In fact, it becomes almost a sort of running gag where occasionally Malick drops a pop-culture reference that other people don’t get and realises that certain events no longer happened in this world. The story rather chooses to focus on Jack’s journey to stardom, how it affects the relationships of those around him and whether his dream is really what he wanted all along, swaying widely between each of these extremes. Throw in some romance, subtle critiques of materialism, the music industry, migrant life in England and pop-culture society in general and you have a movie that covers a lot of territory without putting a focus on any of it.
It sounds disjointed because it is, though surprisingly it is all expertly woven together by Boyle and writer Richard Curtis in a manner that is effective. The trick is that the movie moves at a quick pace; is unpredictable at times and doesn’t try to take itself seriously. Leaving you little time to really question all the different aspects of it and giving you enough to laugh it through all the disconnectedness and keep you entertained.
That is not to say that Yesterday feels rushed or clumsy in any way though, as it is clearly all deliberate. Yesterday wants you to focus on the quirkiness of Jack and the predicament he finds himself in, and gives you enough information to make sense of all of his decisions even if the broader situation may not have all the answers. At its heart, it remains a story firmly about Jack Malik and less about the importance of the Beatles or their music.
Which is a good thing because it is in Patel that the film has its real charm. Patel is excellent as the determined, but equally confused Jack who is trying to make sense of this situation, living with the guilt of knowing he is making a success out of music that isn’t his while dealing with all the other life complications thrown his way. When it comes to the music itself, the film shines less with some of the renditions of popular Beatles songs coming across a little messy, something which may offend you if you’re an ardent fan but shouldn’t be too much of an issue if you aren’t. Though if you are a fan, I would still encourage you to watch it as it pays tribute to John Lennon in a way that is truly special.
The rest of the cast, featuring Lily James, Kat McKinnon, Lamorne Morris, Sophia Di Martino, Joel Fry and Ellise Chappell are all capable, though perhaps a little cliched and over the top. The only other clear stand-out is Ed Sheeran who, while playing himself, is surprisingly entertaining to watch as a music mentor and shows that he has a future as an actor should he wish to pursue it.
Yesterday is a light-hearted and fun story about the fictional life of Jack Malick, more than it is a tribute to the Beatles. It’s a film that has a lot going on, but never lets that distract you from its core purpose, which is to provide entertainment and a few laughs along the way. It’s not too introspective, not to emotional nor even necessarily memorable, but will entertain you enough to ensure that you aren’t disappointed either.
Last Updated: June 29, 2019