Yesterday is directed by Danny Boyle and stars Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, James Corden, and Kate McKinnon.
The film follows struggling English singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Patel), whose dreams are rapidly fading despite endless support from his manager and longtime friend Ellie (James). After experiencing a freak bus accident during a global power outage, he wakes up the next day in a world where The Beatles seemingly never existed. Quickly realizing he’s the only person on Earth that remembers the Fab Four, he begins to write and perform their once famous songs and rockets to superstardom overnight. As Jack ascends further and further toward musical immortality based entirely on a lie, he is soon pushed to face the music, or risk losing himself–and Ellie–forever.
When critiquing media/entertainment/art of any kind, objectivity is often paramount to a fair and impartial review. So, no matter how tempting the idea may seem, I can’t ever let my own personal biases/expectations toward a film get in the way of fairly judging whatever the final product may end up being. And while this normally isn’t much of a problem for me, even with my most anticipated films in any given year, for some strange reason I can’t shake this feeling when it comes to Yesterday.
Conceptually speaking, this film is truthfully one of the most insanely promising in recent memory. From the moment I discovered what this film was about, I was nothing short of madly excited for what was to come based solely on the premise alone. The possibilities locked in this bizarrely perfect elevator pitch were seemingly endless. Throw in talents such as Danny Boyle behind the camera and Richard Curtis penning the script, and you’ve got a movie that can’t possibly fail, right?
Well, unless you’re me. Let me explain.
Objectively, I feel that Yesterday is a more than adequate musical adventure with some really great things going for it. And that’s not a lie, as I do genuinely like a lot of what this film has to offer. But despite many efforts, I can’t review this film without addressing that it’s skewered my line between objectivity and subjectivity this time around, ultimately leaving me slightly disappointed by the time “Hey Jude” rolls over the “Yellow Submarine” style credits.
As I’ve already said, this movie almost literally had an endless amount of potential in terms of its premise. After all, The Beatles are very arguably the most well-known and iconic band of all time, and have thusly influenced about a trillion different facets of not only music history, but pop culture as a whole. I’m not trying to say that this film doesn’t do anything special with its story, as there are a number of reciprocal changes and domino effects due to The Beatles’ disappearance from history that hinted at various glimpses of narrative depth. But more often than not, these changes or effects are often used as throwaway gags that don’t really land or minor plot conveniences that don’t have a larger effect on the characters or the world they live in.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that this film has very little stakes or consequences in terms of its narrative. At no point does Yesterday really make a genuine attempt to ask any deeper questions of its characters living in this new world, or try to explore what a world without The Beatles might truly be like beyond a potential gold mine for an aspiring musician. Rather, everything that’s changed in the world has apparently changed just enough to perfectly supplement every single need of both the plot and the characters, resulting in a laughable number of conveniences and not a ton of grounds for true emotional investment. This is generally the rule throughout, with the exception of one very important scene we’ll get to later on.
And that’s also not to say that I wanted this lighthearted film about The Beatles to have Avengers: Infinity War-level stakes, but it’s kind of amazing just how much Yesterday is made to be a supremely simple feel-good film. What you see in this whimsically fun adventure is exactly what you get, and while that’s not inherently wrong for audiences made up of families, kids, fans of The Beatles, etc., this lack of depth colliding directly with my heightened interest in this film’s premise ultimately left me more disappointed than I’m sure many moviegoers were, leading to my askew perception of what is truthfully a pretty decent and charming family adventure.
Am I starting to make sense now? Okay, let’s get to the rest.
Even with the pressure of having to lead this film in his breakout role, Patel is actually quite a charming and even mildly charismatic on-screen presence for most of the film. While he doesn’t reinvent any wheels with his performance, he’s quite a solid fit for the kind of hero this story requires, and it’s very clear to me that he probably could’ve taken his performance to a higher level if he was given more time and space to really do his thing.
To the surprise of no one, I’m sure, the true standouts in terms of the performances are quite clearly James and McKinnon. Despite my annoyance at the purely “feel-good” nature of this film, the unrelenting cinematic sunshine and charm from James is an absolute joy to watch through and through. While she’s expertly aware of when to adapt and sober her performance up for the film’s more somber moments, James is also undoubtedly having an outright blast, and is truly this film’s heart and soul. Her chemistry with Patel, which drives a significant part of the middle and swing into the last third of the film, was also insanely tangible and believable simply because of everything James brings to the table.
Though she’s not in the film for very long, it’s safe to say that Kate McKinnon runs away with just about every scene she’s in, offering up her trademark charisma and razor-sharp wit, never letting up for even a second. This one really didn’t come as a surprise to me, as I’ve come to accept that Kate McKinnon will be fantastic in anything she’s in no matter what. That being said, I’ll never pass up the chance to watch her completely own a scene, and I was thoroughly entertained whenever she decided to grace the audience with her presence in this film.
In being a film about The Beatles, Yesterday automatically has something going both for and against it simultaneously: the soundtrack. The sheer importance of this discography is no secret to anyone, and I’m sure that the looming pressure of replicating these songs isn’t lost on both Patel and the filmmakers. And while I do prefer The Beatles’ timeless renditions of each song this film recreates, there’s still a solid effort from Patel (who sings live, by the way), paying homage to the tender softness of Lennon and McCartney whilst still differentiating both his figurative and literal voice all the same.
Speaking to the lack of narrative consequence and impact I mentioned earlier, I also brought up a particular scene worth mentioning separately in the review. I wanted to mention this scene simply because it completely nails the essence of what I originally wanted this film to be, and is without a doubt the most powerful scene that this film has to offer. I won’t dare give a single thing away as far as spoilers or context go, but this scene is so incredible that it quite truthfully holds the power to potentially fix a lot of my problems with Yesterday upon future rewatches. You’ll absolutely know the scene when you see it, I promise. My jaw damn near put a dent in the floor. Again, I can’t really say anything without giving precious information away, but rest assured this scene will get a full editorial sometime very soon.
Despite some frustrations on my behalf due to a relatively unexplored and unfulfilled narrative, there’s still a sickeningly fantastic number of things to love about Yesterday. Be it the great performances, warm and inviting charm, or all the inventive ways Boyle and co. pay tribute to one of the most iconic bands of all time, Yesterday is full and resounding cinematic proof that sometimes, all you need is love. I’m going to give Yesterday a C+.