"Yesterday" Movie Review
If you woke up one day and discovered you were the only person in the world who knew the song “She Loves You”, the only soul familiar with the name John Lennon, and the one one using the “the long and winding road” in general conversation, what would you do? Now, imagine you are Jack Malik (EastEnders’ Hamish Patel), a struggling singer-songwriter with better-than-average talent who can, in the wake of such a bizarre phenomenon, pass off the entire Beatles songbook as his own...provided, of course, he can remember the chords and lyrics, as there’s no record of them anywhere.
The brainchild of Love Actually screenwriter Richard Curtis, it’s certainly a clever concept (as well as a testament to both the ubiquity and the genius of the Fab Four). And even though the explanation of the premise is never really fleshed out as well as maybe it should have been, no matter—the final result is a fresh, charming, and ultimately delightful bit of summer fun set to the best soundtrack this side of 2007’s Across the Universe.
Supported by his manager Ellie (Lily James), Jack has been hoping to score his one big break, but after years of playing kids’ birthday parties and empty bars, he’s ready to call it quits. After telling Ellie that the only thing that would help at this point is a miracle, an inexplicable global blackout occurs, leaving everyone but Jack without any memory of The Beatles (or Coca-Cola or cigarettes or Oasis or Harry Potter). Realizing this is just the break he’d been hoping for (though not at all how expected to achieve it), Jack quickly co-opts The Beatles’ songbook for his own. And why not?
It doesn’t take much time at all for the head of a minor label to discover Jack’s musical “genius”, which starts the upward spiral that catches the eye of Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and mega-agent Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). Even as Jack is taking meetings with image consultants and prepping for a world-wide stadium tour, however, the guilt naturally starts to creep in. Plus, we even begin to see a few sideways glances on a face or two in the crowd. Does someone know Jack’s secret?
Director Danny Boyle, leaving behind the gritty intensity of his previous outings such as Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, offers up a proper rock-n-roll fantasy peppered with ample humor, all sorts of Beatles in-jokes, and superbly catchy renditions of everything from “I Saw Her Standing There” to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Perhaps the movie’s most memorable bit, though, is the running gag of Jack trying desperately to remember the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby”—one of the few Beatles tunes eluding him. If you don’t find yourself yelling, “She picks up the rice!” at the screen early and often, you may well be dead inside.
Patel and James both hold up their end of the bargain, keeping the movie zipping along with both their chemistry and their chops. And though McKinnon and Sheeran manage to steal the show whenever they pop up, the real stars are the songs themselves, which obviously hold up all these years later. It’s certainly the fluffiest of ideas to imagine a world without The Beatles, but Yesterday does a fine job giving us two hours of escapist fun to consider the thought... ob-la-di, ob-la-da.