DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle | RUNTIME: 1h 56min | COMEDY, DRAMA, ROMANCE
Whilst on the verge of giving up on his struggling musical career, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is caught in the middle of a world wide blackout, and hit by a bus. After waking up, he finds out he is the only one to remember The Beatles, and being the super fan he is, Jack decides to start playing their songs claiming the hits as his own.
Not one to shy away from high concept romance, screenwriter Richard Curtis (also known for About Time  and Love Actually ) alongside story writer Jack Barth bring us a wonderfully intriguing idea of a world without one of – if not the most – influential band ever, tied with the direction of Danny Boyle (whose credits run long, from films like Slumdog Millionaire  to 28 Days Later ) creates a very interesting team with the foundations for a fun, original piece of cinema.
Unfortunately it doesn’t reach too much further than interesting foundations, instead we’re still given a fun, summery musical romance, but with a fairly under-explored, albeit fascinating, premise. It begins with Jack, played by the very charming and charismatic Himesh Patel, part timing in a supermarket and as a musician. That is, he plays to bars and pubs who aren’t really listening, or a near empty stage at Latitude Festival. His set mostly consists of covers from The Beatles catalogue, very clear in the mindset that he believes they are geniuses. During a worldwide electricity outage, Jack is hit by a bus and spends a few weeks in the hospital, on his return plays a song for his friends at a nearby pub with a brand new guitar given to him by casual manager/full time teacher Ellie (Lily James). He plays one of the hits, only to realise no one knows who it is.
After some fun hijinks and Jack deciding to not give up on his musical career, he keeps playing the songs of The Beatles, bringing success and fame with everyone from the head of Universal to James Cordon calling him a once in a lifetime genius. Most of the conflict for Jack on his journey to the top comes from struggling to adjust to the fame, and the biggest glaring issue with Yesterday becomes apparent very quickly. Instead of taking a dive into how incredible stardom takes its toll on the humanity of someone (i.e. how it affected The Beatles, their families and personal lives) instead we’re given a more light, entertainment filled examination. He lands in Liverpool airport only to be swarmed by female fans and the press, he rushes off to a car and safely reaches his hotel room. We don’t see the affect it actually has on Jack though, as instead we’re given a fun, light hearted scene of him trying to remember the lyrics and chords to famous Beatles songs. There’s no real substance to negative fame that’s represented – Jack tells us he doesn’t like it, he argues with his agent and those in the recording studio and blames it on stress, but it never goes further than this and instead we’re left with a very surface level examination on fame.
The romance elements are well played, albeit fairly cliche. It’s very clear in the opening scenes that Ellie has feelings for Jack, he is oblivious to the fact, although everyone else involved is very aware of the situation. It isn’t until later scenes in which the relationship begins to move forward only to hit a very large and glaring speed bump that it feels different, the issues they reach don’t feel forced but instead very justified and warrant, even if at the end they’re forgotten about completely. Patel and James shine with wonderful chemistry, James herself excelling well above the standard of the rest of the film, even down to the smallest actions really portraying exactly the emotions Ellie will be feeling (even if the rest of her character is unfortunately under-developed), showing why she very likely has a bright acting career ahead of her.
Obviously with the addition of a Beatles-heavy soundtrack there is help creating a charming and easily likeable film, but without a real dive into the world it does feel a bit hollow. By removing one of the most important musical influences it would be intriguing to see the cultural impact it would have on the world, but little seems to have changed at all. We still have pop stars like Ed Sheeran (whose appearance is surprisingly long, but welcomed as he does a fine job on screen) and the music industry is still all about money, fame and image.
There are definitely moments of joy though, as Patel is very charming throughout, selling his bemusement in a Beatles-free world excellently. Every now and then he’ll mention something that no one else knows about (Coca Cola is missing, for example) which is almost always a breezy moment of likeable comedy. There’s moments which Jack has to battle with the fact he’c claiming someone else’s work as his own, whether he’s morally right for doing so. It’s an interesting debate to whether it’s worth doing so, not just for the money but so the world has the music of The Beatles again. Unfortunately, like many aspects of the film, it feels undercooked and leaves many questions about how it could have gone further.
Although fun and light, Yesterday can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity for something more. The romantic elements maybe well played by Patel and James, but it really takes too much time away from a wonderfully unique concept and although very few people will walk away without smiling, it’ll leave plenty of space for what-if’s, and generally an air of anticlimax.