Yesterday (2019)
Yesterday (2019)

Genre: Fantasy and Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: June 28th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Danny Boyle Actors: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Alexander Arnold, Ellise Chappell, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon

 


 

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espite longtime friend and manager Ellie Appleton’s (Lily James) unabating encouragement, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) finally decides to abandon his depressingly flailing music career. But when a global phenomenon leaves the Earth in total darkness for twelve seconds, and Jack is subsequently struck by a bus on his bike ride home, he awakens to a world inexplicably bereft of iconic rock band The Beatles. Realizing that his knowledge of the group’s extensive catalogue could be used to further his own recognition in the industry, Jack sets about performing their greatest hits. But while his rise to stardom takes off at a meteoric pace, the things he holds most dear begin to slip further away from him.

The notion of a struggling artist finding great difficulty in fostering his creative mind in the confines of a 9-to-5, menial labor job is nothing new. In fact, many pictures visualizing this specific strife pose introductions with notable adherences to that formula. And adding to Jack’s intellectual discontent is a beautiful sidekick, whose compassion is wasted on unrequited feelings. Of course, reality finally sets in; Malik isn’t cut out to be a star.

But the generic setup quickly gives way to a fantastical twist, not unlike writer Richard Curtis’ own “About Time” or the likes of ‘80s hits “Big” and “Back to the Future.” “This is the most complicated joke I ever heard.” When Google no longer recognizes The Beatles, they officially don’t exist. And so Malik is presented with that rare, cinematic opportunity – to achieve instant fame and acclaim. In the blink of an eye, he’s Mozart, while a popular musician like Ed Sheeran is reduced to Salieri. Fortunately, the film uses plenty of humor to augment this gimmick, particularly surrounding Malik’s exploitation of The Beatles’ work and the fact that his memory is his only muse; there aren’t any records or other materials to mine for lyrics and melodies.

Fascinatingly, “Yesterday” confronts the idea that, despite having masterpieces at the ready, these songs are out of context and place and time. Will contemporary audiences respond to the music – or appreciate it or understand it – when dispensed in one lump sum, without the years of growth and recognition and celebrity status? Like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman” before it, montages and references involving nonstop familiar tunes help shape a story of comedy, drama, and fun – here focusing primarily on the fun. But perhaps “Yesterday’s” greatest accomplishment is the love story; only on the outside is the film about a man masquerading as the inventor of The Beatles’ most cherished songs. Considering that Jack’s incredulity at receiving a phone call from the real Ed Sheeran doesn’t quite line up with this very likely outcome – and one that he’s imagined as a certainty – it’s relieving to see just how moving the romance becomes. Even without the fantasy scheme that is surely “Yesterday’s” main selling point, the romance is believable and momentous.

Another major win is the lack of a crushing presence related to Jack’s big secret. While most comedies can’t rid themselves of the nagging feeling that everything is going to go so terribly wrong at the last minute, destructively exposing the protagonist as a fraud, “Yesterday” instead dwells on lighthearted humor – from the over-the-top persona of a heartless yet thoroughly transparent producer (Kate McKinnon), to the comical absence of other million-dollar concepts (such as Coke or cigarettes), to the joke-filled yet potent love story. And that romance is one that finds the hero using his good fortune not to live the life of a rock star (the typical drugs, sex, and flashy objects), but foremost to get the girl. Ironically, Jack’s newfound renown is in no way instrumental to his love life – he could have had the girl all along. The conclusion does opt for some uncomfortable resolutions, along with a few overly tidy wrap-ups, but “Yesterday” still comes out ahead. It’s a charming, breezy bit of entertainment with a pricey yet rockin’ soundtrack.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10