Director Danny Boyle & Screenwriter Richard Curtis Create A Musical Version Of The Thanos Snap Where “The Beatles” Don’t Exist (If You Can Believe That One). While The Film Is Breezy, Charming & Delightfully Engaging. It’s Also A Frustrated & Confusing Experience That Leaves Many Questions Unanswered In “Yesterday”.
No band has stood the test of time quite like The Beatles. Almost everywhere you go or if you ask anyone, someone has heard of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in one way or another. The fab four have become so easily distinguishable because of their image in pristine suits, by their voices and iconic hit songs. It can easily be said that The Beatles are the most influential band of all time. What sets them apart from everyone else is the continuing legacy they left in music. One of the decade-defining bands of the 1960s, The Beatles fully immersed themselves in anything and everything. They embodied what the “swinging sixties” were all about.
They defined a generation, changed the lifestyle of youths across the nation as they shaped a decade with their everlasting music. Just think where would the world be without “Let It Be” or “Hey Jude?”. Let’s imagine for a second of a world without The Beatles? Now let’s take another second and cry at the thought of The Beatles having no existence at all. If you love The Beatles (as everyone should), chances are you’re going to love “Yesterday” or you’ll despise it in every way possible.
Two of my favorite talents in movies team up for “Yesterday”. The multi talented director Danny Boyle who directed some of my favorite films including: “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Trainspotting” and “The Beach”. Serving as screenwriter is one of romatic comedies great writers Richard Curtis, writer and director of Love Actually” and writer to “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings & A Funeral”. Boyle and Curtis revolves “Yesterday” around the premise that The Beatles are not only the greatest band who literally changed the musical world, but a band who never existed. If you buy into that, and accept that it has some big problems and goes into the trademark Richard Curtis’ style script, then “Yesterday” will be a breezy, delightfully engaging charmer with a wonderfully eccentric premise with an incredible soundtrack.
Himesh Patel (no relation to Dev Patel star of Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire”) is Jack Malik, a local musician trying to bring his talents to the world. Unfortunately for him, his best friend and manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James “Downton Abbey”, “Baby Driver”) rarely can get him a gig that attracts an audience. Then something that never gets explained happens. The entire world goes black for twelve seconds, and during the massive blackout, Malik is thrown off his bicycle and nearly killed.
During his recovery Jack is gifted a new guitar that Ellie gave him, as he sings The Beatles tune “Yesterday”, he finds that his friends and the world have no idea who The Beatles are. Jack realizes that he can play their music as his own and take credit for the iconic tunes, only after his friends are convinced he wrote the songs. Soon, a self involved but powerful music executive named Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon “GhostBusters”) discovers Jack’s songs that success sure enough quickly follows. Is it the kind of success he truly desires? Is the worldly success as great as he imagined it would be?
While this is certainly a movie filled with great music, you must remember it’s also written by leading romantic comedy screenwriter Richard Curtis, which means “Yesterday” is ultimately a love story between Ellie and Jack. So if you are looking for some deep and complex look at the moral and ethical motives behind Jack taking credit for music that isn’t his, you won’t find that here. In fact you won’t find a lot of the films set-up answered leaving the film both frustrating and confusing.
This is quite a big story on paper, a world-altering event that Curtis has set-up a special idea with, finding a way to inject a little absurdity into a story about everyday people. There’s a fantasy element to the picture, treating the blackout as a musical version of the Thanos snap. While Curtis sets up a world building premise he adds a few other pop culture items that have also vanished and go on the list of missing items, including Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and “Harry Potter”.
When Jack googles them on the web, his returned results are earned laughs. I know what you’re probably thinking why did only these certain things have vanished? I could tell you if only I knew why? Unfortunately in it’s two hour running time, anyone who sees “Yesterday” will never find out why the global blackout and vanishing of The Beatles, soda pop and cigarettes happens. Nor is their any resolution to the vanishings. The how and the why it happens are written as just pure fantasy without any explanation. The premise is there for a great story but isn’t explored as fully as it should’ve been.
Himesh Patel manages to give Jack a lot of heart. It’d be easy to judge his actions as deceptive and morally bankrupt, yet that’s something you can easily get past. This is just a guy that wants to play music so his motives never feel particularly deceitful. One of the most interesting sub-plots involve a couple of “fans” who appear to be the only ones who remember the fab four themselves (again another plot point not explained or resolved), as they lead Jack to an icon of pop culture in a fabulous twist to the story which has remained divided among audiences. Ultimately, to really care about this musician struggling to have his voice heard, you have to care about the one bringing that voice to the story. His clear, strong singing voice lend a credibility to Jack’s rise to rock superstardom. Patel is well cast here.
Patel’s co-star, the beautiful Lily James is terrific here. The two share an undeniable chemistry because we see that they could be together much quicker than they realize. Lily James once again gives a lovely performance that brings a ton of heart. The romance surrounding the pair works because the two give their all to their performances.
Helmer Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis head in a much softer direction with “Yesterday”. Although Boyle’s not known for his tender touch as “Slumdog Millionaire” comes closest to having a sweetness to his films. Boyle and Curtis manufacture a silly fantasy that’s consumed by a script that is very much Richard Curtis and brings all of his romantic comedy intentions.
There is much to enjoy here, and much to hate. I’m not sure why Curtis didn’t provide us with an explanation or the one thing I was really looking forward to which is the resolution to the “magical” event. I’m guessing Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle is trying to build worlds and expand the story to another film? I’m puzzled, but I can’t believe this film is making me so frustrated. I know the filmmakers are suppose to leave an impact on you but this isn’t the kind of impact I want leaving the auditorium. If your a movie goer who wont take any part of the story seriously, and care nothing about the story. You’ll find a surprisingly sweet and touching celebration of the music that continues to gives fans joy, while this film just gives you a headache.
GRADE: ★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5)