What would a world without The Beatles look like? The new romantic comedy "Yesterday" answers this question for us, with mixed results.
Jack Malik (newcomer to film, Himesh Patel), is a struggling musician about at the end of his rope. His only fan and supporter is his good friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James), who seems to love Jack for more than just his music. One night after a gig, the entire world experiences a power outage for just a few brief seconds, and in that small window of time, Jack is hit by a bus. When he awakes, he soon discovers the strangest thing: He seems to be the only person on the planet that knows about The Beatles.
He Googles "The Beatles" and only finds articles about insects. Paul, John, George and Ringo have never become famous. It dawns on him that if he can remember most of their songs (and who can't, as they are ingrained in our DNA), he might just have a chance at becoming the world's greatest singer/songwriter, yes even better than Ed Sheeran (who appears as himself in the movie). The lyrics of The Beatles are so powerful, that Jack does get discovered, and does become the world's greatest musician. This of course plunges him into a world of fame, fortune, and greed, especially when he's confronted by shady record exec, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon).
You won't want to think too hard about the premise, as this film is meant to be taken as pure fantasy. Beyond the obvious conceit that the world would clearly be a worse place without The Beatles, their erasure from history does lead to some clever developments. I won't spoil anything, but the fact that The Beatles never were, ends up giving us a scene towards the end of the film that is about the greatest gift the filmmakers could have given to any fan of The Beatles.
Their music is universal and untouchable, and it's impossible not to enjoy "Yesterday" on that level. Himesh Patel, in his first leading role, oozes with charisma and keeps Jack centered despite what he's got himself into. The beautiful Lily James has an uncanny way of coming across as an "every-girl," and gives out a nerdy, timid vibe that makes her wholly relatable to the audience. Together the two do have chemistry, but at it's heart, this is just another semi-predictable romantic comedy set across the universe, in one of the most bizarre alternate realities you'll ever witness.
With a screenplay by Richard Curtis ("Love Actually," "Notting Hill"), the focus is on the relationship between Jack and Ellie and it's a bit light in the loafers. Directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "127 Hours"), the film is never dull, and even with all of the musical numbers in the film, it never becomes repetitive.
But the ending severely fails the rest of the film. The Beatles gimmick sort of paints Jack into a corner and it's quite clear that Curtis may not have known how to end things. It devolves into a film about anti-piracy? Yikes, I did not see that coming. And the big romantic gesture that this movie was building towards never quite happens. Even while leaving the theater, I was able to think of at least three alternate endings that would have been more satisfying than the one we were given, but - as The Beatles say - ob la di, ob la da, life goes on.
Even still, "Yesterday" manages to be the sort of movie that you find yourself smiling through, and you can at least count on a stellar soundtrack. It's not perfect by any means, and it is filled with holes, but all you need is love...right? This movie loves the music of The Beatles and the impact that their songs have had on all of humanity, and is meant to be taken as a celebration. In that regard, to any potential haters, I say, just let it be.
Genre: Music, Comedy, Fantasy, Romance.
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Alexander Arnold, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon.
Written by Richard Curtis (the upcoming live-action "The Little Mermaid," "About Time," "War Horse," "Love Actually," "Notting Hill.")
Directed by Danny Boyle ("T2: Trainspotting," "127 Hours," "Millions," "28 Days Later..." "Trainspotting," "Shallow Grave").
"Yesterday" opens everywhere on Friday, June 28th, 2019.
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