Yesterday set itself a pretty low entertainment bar to clear with its premise. “You mean I’ll get to sit and listen to Beatles tunes for two hours? Yeah, where do I sign?” Screenwriter Richard Curtis – he of Love Actually fame – and director Danny Boyle have crafted a movie that feels slight, yes, but one that is also infectiously charming and just a plain damn good time at the movies. It might not contain the deep and meaningful qualities with which we’ve all imbued the music at its center, but it brought a big, fat smile to my face while I was watching it. On this occasion, and in these bleak times, that was more than enough.
The most enjoyable thing about Yesterday, where a man is hit by a bus, then wakes up shocked to find out he’s seemingly the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles or any of their songs, is its commitment to its magical realism concept. There is no Wizard of Oz ending where the main character, Jack, sits up in bed and realizes it was all a dream.
The movie also never goes out of its way to explain what happened during the 12 seconds when the electricity went out all across the planet, coinciding with Jack’s accident. That’s presumably the event that caused the world to forget the most famous rock group of all time, in addition to a few other things. The playful consternation on actor Himesh Patel’s face as Jack realizes yet another thing he loves no longer exists – like Coca Cola, for example –is delightful.
Patel and costar Lily James have a wonderful chemistry as friends Jack and Ellie who, you’ll be shocked to learn, might actually have feelings for each other. It’s a romantic twist to the story that we can all see coming from two hills over. The movie doesn’t do the plot development any favors by basically ignoring it for the first half of the movie, then cramming what is a rote generic series of events into the final act. Still, Patel and James’ effervescent performances and connection to one another make it enjoyable, if predicable.
Meanwhile, Kate McKinnon hams it up nicely as the music agent/manager from hell. It must be as easy as giving the talented McKinnon a juicy enough part then telling her, “Ok, do your thing,” to get gold out of her. Singer Ed Sheeran pleasantly surprised me playing a heightened version of himself. Sheeran was willing to poke some fun at his own persona as a songwriter, an easy enough task when you’re going up against the songs of McCartney and Lennon.
Yesterday only barely scratches the surface of what living with unimaginable success and fame would feel like while knowing that what got you there was someone else’s work. The earlier scenes, where Jack is ready to quit his dream of being a musician after years of struggle with nothing to show for it, are more effective, and they hit me on a personal level.
This movie is more fun than something like Julie Taymor’s Beatles-centric Across the Universe – a picture I admire greatly. It’s whimsical without being too precious, although just barely, considering a surprise cameo by a character late in the film that borders on schmaltzy. It’s obvious Boyle and Curtis wanted to deliver a movie of pure joy. Considering they managed to give me chills every single time Jack begins playing another of the Fab Four’s legendary tunes, I’d say it was mission accomplished.
One last thing:
- If you like Richard Curtis’ sense of whimsy as much as I do, you should check out his film from 2013 called About Time, if you haven’t already. Like Yesterday, it has a far-out premise that’s practically Sci-Fi.