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Yesterday Review: A Fairly Memorable Homage to The Beatles

 

Yesterday is the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling musician living in Suffolk who can’t seem to generate interest in the songs he creates beyond his manager and lifelong friend, Ellie (Lily James). One day, Jack suffers an accident just as the world experiences a global blackout. When he awakens, Jack comes to the realization that he now lives in a world where The Beatles have never existed. Using their absence to his gain, Jack begins “writing” all of The Beatles’ classic hits and catapults to stardom as the world’s best songwriter. Of course, with added attention and fame, Jack must contend with a growing sense of guilt regarding his deception, and the realization that with the addition of popularity, he may lose the most important things in his life.

What works in Yesterday is the charming execution of the “what if?” scenario, and the music. Screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) took a rather amusing idea and had a fun time considering what the resulting consequences would be, often exploring some unexpected angles. The premise is further grounded by Patel, who is simply delightful as the man who has always craved the rock-star validation of his work, and finds his new situation unbelievable. His innocence and trepidation are relatable, and he elicits plenty of laughs navigating his new arc. And finally, his chemistry with James is simply adorable.

RELATED: Danny Boyle’s Yesterday Extended Clip

Of course, at the heart of Yesterday is the catalog of hits by The Beatles. Boyle secured the rights to some 20 songs, and 17 of them feature prominently throughout the movie. Here again, Patel shines as the conduit bringing the iconic music to a “new” audience. As essentially solo act, Patel impressively channels the quartet’s tone and energy during each ballad. This also brings about plenty of laughs, especially as Jack struggles to remember the lyrics to certain classics, and often gets unsolicited advice on how the songs might “improved.” For Beatles fans, Yesterday is like an always-on jukebox of the hits that will unquestionably create smiles.

While Yesterday is a lovely homage to the Liverpool four, those expecting a creative reimagining or reinterpretation of their music might be disappointed. Yesterday is more like an excellent cover band rather than Boyle’s attempt to put any new spin on the classics. This may prove to be a wise decision as undoubtedly purists would cry foul if the filmmakers tried to implement any significant changes.

The other facet of Yesterday that might leave some watchers dissatisfied is Boyle’s apparent lack of interest in answering the question of “why?” Instead of any providing and exposition or rationalization, Boyle simply asks the audience to accept the scenario. Yesterday commits to its core concept, and even introduces other unusual elements, but doesn’t see the creation of its world as a mystery that needs to be solved. Audience members who feel the need for complete resolution might be surprised or let down by these creative decisions.

Yesterday may feel a little like a saccharine, typical rom-com covered in the sheen of great music, but Boyle and Curtis have so much love for their premise, it’s hard not to tap along with your foot. And for die-hard Beatles fans, this is required viewing given how much adulation and respect the filmmakers clearly have for the artists.

Recommended if you enjoyed: Across the Universe, About Time

FINAL GRADE: B+

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