If you’ve seen the trailers or know the basic story behind Yesterday, and you see a healthy amount of movies every year, Danny Boyle’s Yesterday is a fairly predictable romantic-comedy apart from two important factors. It’s loaded with the best of the Beatles catalog—classic galore, and as a rom-com when the film zigs in a predictable direction, it zags with a fresh take. It’s as if the filmmakers know they’re about to do something the audience will see coming and slips a curveball in to throw you off.
Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, Yesterday stars Himesh Patel as Jack Malik. He’s a big box warehouse worker, who dreams of becoming a pop star. But based on low attendance at various coffee shops, wedding receptions, and an empty tent at a high-profile music festival, Jack has lost faith in himself. The only one who believes in him is his childhood friend and manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James).
The night after the big festival failure, Jack packs it in for good and while biking home a power shortage of a global scale happen. For ten seconds, all power goes out across the globe. Although no great catastrophe occurs, our hero Jack does get hit by a van. Days later, he wakes up, missing two teeth and his ugly beard.
“…the power outage somehow removed the Beatles’ from history, and only Jack remembers them.”
After a brief stint in the hospital, Ellie gives Jack a brand-new guitar to replace the one destroyed in the van collision. Jack played the Beatles’ hit Yesterday, and Ellie is moved to tears saying it’s the best song she’s ever heard and thinks Jack wrote it. Long story short, the power outage somehow removed the Beatles’ from history, and only Jack remembers them. As a running gag, we slowly discover that a few more people and products have disappeared without a single hiccup in the space/time continuum. One being Coca-Cola, setting up the only time in history the “I’ll have Coke” joke actually works.
The rest of the story is pretty much what you think it would be. Jack begins to record the Beatles’ songs with Ellie again as his manager. Jack is discovered to be a brilliant singer/songwriter and mentored by the real Ed Sheeran. He flies to L.A. and taken under the wing of Ed’s heartless manager Debra played hilariously by Kate McKinnon. His newfound fame brings the pressures being found out as a fraud. Is he the only one in the world unaffected by the power outage? Fame also gets in the way of his true feelings for Ellie.
As stated from the start, Yesterday is a very familiar story and plays out for the most part how you think it will go. But what Richard Curtis brilliantly does with this well-worn storyline is bring in elements to make it feel fresh. For the most part, Yesterday is one of those hit-on-the-head Alice in Wonderland type stories, except that this is the new normal, Jack does not need to learn some cosmic lesson to restore the world back to the way it was. He really is the only person who knows the Beatles’ and their songs. There is a resolution to this at the end.
“…Curtis makes a grand attempt to fill in as many plot-holes as he possibly can…”
Also, Curtis makes a grand attempt to fill in as many plot-holes as he possibly can. He addresses many of these holes, but not all. For example, Jack goes through a laborious process of trying to remember every Beatles song ever—both music and lyrics. Elenor Rigby is especially difficult. Also, just because you have great songs, that does not automatically make Jack the greatest singer in the world. And as a young man coming from a loving family surrounded by good supportive friends, many of the songs he “writes” doesn’t come from his experience. In an interview, he’s asked about the inspiration of Hey Jude, and he has nothing convincing to say.
Let’s not forget, Yesterday is a love story from the guy who wrote Love Actually. Himesh Patel and Lily James absolutely work as a will-they/won’t-they couple. Right from the beginning, you know where she stands, and you know where he stands. Ultimately, it’s not fame and fortune that keeps the two apart, but it’s fear. This is the story of Jack and of Jack finding love. There’s no sell-you-soul deal or evil corporation turning Jack against his friends. It’s all on Jack and how he copes with his newfound fame.
There is a single lightning-rod moment in the third act that will heavily-influence people loving or hating Yesterday. Personally, I couldn’t believe they went there, but they did, and I got over it. As you’d expect, the film is loaded with fun and interesting characters, including Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Jack’s supportive, yet doubting parents. Ed Sheeran is great in the token celebrity role, particularly when he goes against Jack in a song-writing battle. Kate McKinnon is equally funny as the typical sleazy L.A. manager. She’s not evil, just sleazy. Lastly, it has all the sappy, schmaltz you’d expect from Richard Curtis. It lays hard into good feelings and hopeful endings.
Yesterday (2019) Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by Richard Curtis. Starring Himesh Petal, Lilly James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon.
8 out of 10 stars