Jack (Himesh Patel) is a musician struggling through performing in empty pubs, neglected festival tents, and birthday parties. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) is also his manager, who refuses to let him quit when he’s feeling discouraged by his lack of success. On the night he finally throws in the towel for good, the entire world experiences a 12 second power outage during which Jack is hit by a car on his bike ride home.
When Jack wakes, he soon realizes that nobody knows who The Beatles are. A bit of internet research leads him to realize The Beatles no longer exist. Seeing an opportunity, Jack writes down all of the music he can remember from The Beatles catalog and passes them off as his own, though not entirely without guilt. As his music career takes off, Jack starts to feel the pressure of benefiting off of someone else’s work.
Being a big fan of The Beatles, I’ve been wanting to watch Yesterday for quite some time. I also really love most of Richard Curtis’s romantic comedies, and the fact that it was directed by Danny Boyle was a bonus. That being said, while I enjoyed Yesterday quite a bit, it didn’t quite live up to Curtis’s other beloved rom-coms like Notting Hill and About Time, although I did like it better than Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
I do love fantastical premises in my rom-coms (see About Time) so it was easy to fall into the notion that a worldwide power outage could erase music’s most influential band. What would the world be like without their music? Well, Oasis wouldn’t exist without The Beatles, and Ed Sheeran is considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time (I like Ed Sheeran, but come on…).
Sheeran plays a fictionalized version of himself in the film, as he invites Jack to open for him on a few dates of his upcoming tour. There are a few amusing bits with Sheeran, mainly the diss of his rapping skills by Jack’s dumb but lovable friend and roadie Rocky (a delightful Joel Fry), but for the most part, Sheeran is lacking any real presence on screen. He does provide a rather lovely song for the film’s soundtrack but for some strange reason, it’s never been released. Kate McKinnon also shows up halfway through the movie as a lecherous music executive who recognizes Jack’s talent is going to help her buy not only a second Malibu home, but an entire beachfront. She has plenty of fantastic one-liners, but I think that’s the norm for any McKinnon role.
I enjoyed Patel as Jack. Not only can he sing, but he was great at expressing plenty of emotion without having to say a word. James was plenty charming as Ellie, although I have to admit I’ve never felt engaged by James as an actress. Every role I’ve seen her in I could easily imagine four or five other actresses who could have been cast and I wouldn’t have noticed much of a difference. But Patel and James had some sweet chemistry and the movie benefited when they were sharing the screen together.
There were a bit too many montages for my taste, although I understood the need to keep the movie moving at a brisk pace. I will admit that I’ve only seen a small handful of Danny Boyle’s movies but Yesterday definitely felt more like a Richard Curtis film than one from Boyle. There’s also a brief scene with a famous musician who gives Jack some much needed life advice that in a way felt a bit contrived, but also surprisingly emotional. That probably sums up my feelings for this movie.
It has an incredibly fascinating premise, but it loses steam way halfway through, shifting focus to Jack and Ellie’s love story instead. Mind you, I love the romantic aspects of the movie, but for me, the idea of what the world would have been like without The Beatles was far more interesting. We know that without The Beatles, Oasis wouldn’t exist… but what else? How would the lack of the Fab Four change the course of the future? Given their influence musically and on pop culture, would we even have an Ed Sheeran, who has stated The Beatles were his main influence? These questions are interesting ones, but sadly they’re never answered.
Yesterday is a pleasant film, one that invokes a lot of warm feelings both towards love and towards music. I immediately felt the urge to start listening to some of The Beatles on my phone, and I’ve been singing “She Loves You” in my head for most of the day. And for that reason alone, it’s worth a watch.