The movie Yesterday imagines the unthinkable: a world without The Beatles. Starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, the Danny Boyle film just asks that you consider a world sans the Fab Four for two hours. Watching the removal of the band’s immeasurable contribution to culture is a tough ask. They have been everywhere for over 50 years. It turns out that it is a fun way to appreciate John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
Yesterday creates this phenomenon with a 12-second catastrophic event that erases The Beatles existence. The movie never explains the occurrence. It is just a magical mystery. Do not concern yourself with the details. Just play along and enjoy the ride.
During the unexplained event, struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) gets into a traffic accident. His unfortunate experience gives him the ability to remember Beatles songs. Helping him along the way is Lily James, who plays his longtime manager/roadie/admirer.
Patel is likable as the middling singer-songwriter. He strikes out playing to bars, coffee houses, and empty tents… until he unleashes The Beatles. Jack goes from Nowhere Man to the biggest star in the world overnight. Along the way, Michael Kiwanuka, James Corden, and Ed Sheeran all make well-placed cameos. Kate McKinnon is funny as an overbearing record company exec, although towards the end of the film her role as the bombastic comic relief exhausts itself.
Jack is always a fish out of water. He doesn’t fit the pop star mold. The film goes to great lengths to give his image a makeover. Even though outward appearance is an always-relevant area of pop music, it just sounds ridiculous because of the discography he’s hawking. Of course, not everyone recognizes the epic greatness of The Beatles. A hilarious part of Yesterday is his “debut” of “Let It Be.” The classic song fails to impress in his own parent’s living room.
Overall, the script and editing were terrific. Boyle kept the film’s story tight and without excess. As is to be expected from a movie with this type of structure in play, the movie is at its best when it embraces the fantasy. Yesterday slows when reality comes into play. Fortunately, this does not last too long. The audience can be immersed in Beatlemania 2.0 without worrying too much about details.
Yesterday is in the middle of a run of Classic Rock-themed movies started by Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018. So far, films on Queen, Elton John, and Motley Crue have been released within the last calendar year. Blinded By The Light, a love letter to Bruce Springsteen fandom, will hit theaters on August 14. The Broadway-style revue of treasured discographies has been a box office success so far. People are coming for the music. All a filmmaker needs is the right story.
Danny Boyle has a great story in Yesterday. The film is far superior to its Oscar-winning Queen counterpart in every creative aspect. The concept is so unique. Instead of recreating a narrative about a band’s history, the revered music is simply removed from the universe. Conceiving of a world without Beatles songs is ghastly. You can’t blame Jack Malik for passing off the songs as his own. The world needs to hear songs based on love, friendship, and fun.
Their work is so valuable that the 17 songs used in the film cost $10 million dollars. It is an extraordinary amount. It is money well spent. Boyle’s film fosters a multi-generational appreciation of a singular discography. Yesterday is flat-out one of the most pleasing rock music films you will ever watch.