“Do you genuinely not know who The Beatles are?” asks Jack (Himesh Patel). “Genuinely,” replies Ellie (Lily James). “Then I’m in a really, really complicated situation,” says Jack who’s apparently the only person who remembers The Beatles and their songs in the music-driven fantasy drama, Yesterday.
Jack’s a struggling, mediocre musician who dreams of one day getting his big break. The only person who believes in him and has devoted her life to managing his music career…if it can be called that…is his childhood best friend, Ellie. After another disappointing gig Jack tells Ellie he’s going to give up on trying to be a musician. Ellie attempts to talk him out of it, but he peddles away on his bicycle. At just that precise moment, the world experiences a momentary blackout and Jack is hit by a bus. He wakes up in the hospital missing a few teeth and with a few scrapes but is otherwise okay.
Ellie and a few of his friends throw Jack a homecoming party to celebrate his birthday when he gets out of the hospital. Ellie gives Jack a new, expensive guitar and Jack, touched by her generosity, plays the song, ”Yesterday.” To his surprise, everyone fawns over the song saying it’s great and asking when he wrote it. Jack says Paul McCartney from The Beatles wrote it, and his friends act as though they have no idea who he’s talking about.
Later, Jack searches the internet to discover The Beatles never existed. Somehow Jack has woken up in an alternate timeline where he’s the only one in the world who remembers The Beatles and their hit songs. Faced with this bizarre opportunity, Jack sets out to use the Fab Four’s hit songs to make himself a musical legend.
Yesterday tries to be a charming and fun fantasy film saluting The Beatles but ends up being a cheesy, unengaging, and forgettable romantic comedy. There are only a few laughs and, worse yet, there’s zero chemistry between Himesh Patel and Lily James when the romantic part of the film is forced into the spotlight.
Himesh Patel’s Jack is not a likeable character and is never redeemed, denying the audience someone to root for. Early on it’s made clear he takes for granted the people closest to him. That never evolves as he becomes famous. When he uses the Fab Four’s songs to become a music superstar, he becomes even less likeable. It’s a big problem with the film that the main character is a jerk when it begins instead of a decent, struggling guy who surrenders to the dream he has to be famous, which might have worked.
Lily James gives the best performance in the film as Ellie, Jack’s best friend and manager who desperately wants to move out of the friend zone and into a relationship with him. The scenes where she subtly looks at him with longing in her eyes are both touching and sad. However, later in the film when it shifts gears and tries to become a movie about true love , it quickly becomes evident James and Patel have no romantic tension.
The best comedic performance is delivered by Joel Fry as Rocky, Jack’s bumbling but devoted and well-meaning friend and roadie. Rocky constantly says and does the most inappropriate things, but is dedicated to Jack not because of his newfound success but because he values him as a friend. It’s Fry’s performance that delivers the only laughs in the film. Sadly, they’re not enough to save it.
Yesterday should have been a sweet fantasy film that’s a love letter to The Beatles but instead is a hokey, bland, and uninteresting movie. The Fab Four deserve better and so does the audience.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: June 28, 2019
Directed By: Danny Boyle