From its very first trailer there was something really weird about “Yesterday”. I actually say that as a compliment. I was immediately fascinated by its bizarre concept and the wacky way it blended romantic comedy with a ‘price of fame’ cautionary tale veiled as a fun tribute to the Beatles.
Danny Boyle helms this light-hearted tale starring newcomer Himesh Patel. He plays Jack Malik, a struggling singer-songwriter who has lost faith in his chance at a career in music. His lone true supporter and loyal manager Ellie (a delightful Lily James) encourages him to stay with it while tirelessly working to secure him gigs. From the start it’s pretty obvious Ellie has feelings for Jack, but he’s too lost in his own perpetual pity-party to notice.
Now things get weird. One night while riding home on his bike Jack is hit by a bus during a brief worldwide blackout. He wakes up to discover that no one on the planet has ever heard of the Beatles. Along the way the movie randomly mentions several other random things the world has forgotten (Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, etc.) but we never learn what or if there is any connection.
But back to the Beatles. Jack (a big fan of the Fab Four) begins writing down the lyrics to their songs and singing them as his own. Ellie hooks him up with a small-time producer to do a demo which leads to performance on a local television talk show. Global pop star Ed Sheeran (playing himself) hears the new songs and invites Jack to be his opening act in Moscow.
His meteoric rise to stardom reaches its apex when a rapacious and brutally honest record company executive (a pretty funny Kate McKinnon) signs Jack to a lucrative recording contract. She whisks him away to Los Angeles to set up recording sessions and promotional appearances. Jack’s new found fame puts him on top of the world, but how long can he lie to the public, himself, and the one girl who loves him?
It goes without saying the whole thing is a little hokey, yet there is still a sweet and tender undercurrent that runs throughout the movie. Much of that is channeled through Lily James who is so earnest, charming and who you could argue is the heart of the movie. Patel is also really good in his feature film debut. In addition to acting, Patel does his own singing and playing on the movie’s numerous musical numbers.
Still, it’s hard to view “Yesterday” as anything more than lightweight, feel-good fluff. But is that such a terrible thing? Sure the premise is silly and makes little sense. Yes it zips through parts of the story too fast for us to ever get our footing. But as a pop music fairy tale and a reminder of how these songs stand the test of time, there is certainly room for a movie like this. And I kind of admire its complete disregard for conventional storytelling.
VERDICT – 3 STARS