What’s Yesterday about?
Struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malik gets into an accident during a worldwide blackout. He wakes up the next morning to find the world exactly the same, with one exception: The Beatles never existed.
Is it any good? (Grade: B)
It’s a testament to the strength of original storytelling when one filmmaker is able to come up with a premise so good that people will go see it based on that alone. That was exactly the case for me when I watched the trailer for Yesterday and found a story that intrigued me and made me want to see it. While Yesterday is a great feel-good comedy, it doesn’t quite reach its full potential.
Yes, while writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle are conceptually flawless with Yesterday, as it goes into its second and third acts, the film struggles to do right by its original premise. It runs into familiar plot points and characterizations that threaten to make Yesterday your run-of-the-mill musical flick. Curtis and Boyle keep the familiarities to a minimum, but they still made certain parts feel tired and stale. Curtis’s dialogue and comedic writing is outstanding throughout, but in an effort to explore this alternate world, he raises questions that are never answered, and they’re not the kind you’d want to leave open-ended. I doubt that Curtis intended to leave them unanswered, yet that made the situation more confusing. If that’s the case, why ask the questions to begin with? Thankfully, the problems with Yesterday don’t undermine the great things it has to offer.
In his feature film debut, Himesh Patel hits the ground running as Jack Malik. You believe him as this struggling musician who can’t work it out, no matter how passionate he is about music. Patel captured genuine sincerity remarkably well for a feature debut. The more I got to know the character, the more I related to him. I understood the character’s passion for music, and I was invested in his journey throughout the film as he learns what it truly means live a successful life. Patel proved himself to be a talented singer as his performances of The Beatles’ songs were executed so well that I felt as if I was listening to the original versions. Malik’s romance with Ellie Appleton, played by Lily James, was sappy—this is a film written by Richard Curtis, after all. However, the important distinction to make is that it’s the kind that didn’t come across as annoying or superfluous. Instead, there was palpable chemistry between the actors and they bought into the relationship their characters shared, benefiting the story altogether.
The comedy in Yesterday is another one of its strengths. Jack’s reaction to The Beatles’ disappearance was pure gold and had me laughing hysterically. This laughter was later continued when it’s gradually revealed throughout the film that The Beatles is not the only thing missing from the world. I dare not reveal what is also missing, but let’s just say that you’re in for a surprise. Ed Sheeran makes an appearance as himself and the film pokes fun at his musical style, which is made funnier when the songwriter joins in on the joke. The only bit of the comedy that didn’t work was Kate McKinnon’s manager character. Her attempts at humor fell flat, coming across as irritating rather than witty. She either needed to improve her jokes or play the role completely serious, which also could’ve led to more jokes.
In all, Yesterday may not be a straight home run, but it is worth seeing. The film is a love letter to The Beatles and highlights how and why the band’s music made an impact that has lasted for so long. Longtime fans of the band will enjoy the celebration, while potential new fans will be encouraged to check out their music immediately after leaving the cinema.
Is it okay for kids? (Rated PG-13)
The mature content in Yesterday primarily consists of profanity and drinking. Though the use of profanity is infrequent, there are some S-words, A-words, SOBs, GDs, and a cut off F-word, plus some English slang. Adults party, drink various kinds of alcohol, and act drunk afterward. There’s a running gag where Jack asks for a Coke beverage and people think he’s asking for drugs, which is only funny when you understand the context. There’s a similar gag involving cigarettes, but, again, is only funny in the film.
Jack and Ellie share a long-lasting friendship with one another. They talk about taking the next step and bring up sex, but ultimately decide to wait until they’re committed to one another to avoid a possible one-night stand. There’s only one violent scene in the movie and that’s the early one in which Jack is hit by a bus, setting off this whole story. He’s banged up bad and loses two of his front teeth, but it’s not too graphic and he gets implants soon after. Children eight and up could be okay to watch this film, depending on what they are able to handle.
Any worthwhile messages?
Jack’s story involves themes of courage (Deuteronomy 31: 6), honesty (Romans 12:17), and integrity (Proverbs 20:7). While he makes choices that may be temporarily awkward or uncomfortable for him, they prove to be the right choices in the long run.
With that said, the premise of this movie involves Jack claiming ownership of songs that he did not create, but he appropriately feels conflicted about it. Granted, he wants to be famous and make money, but for him, bringing these songs back is only to allow people to enjoy them once more and to make sure they’re not forgotten. He’s a respectable and appropriately complicated character that people can understand and root for.
Ellie makes similar choices based on integrity. She refuses to join Jack to America to work on his music because she does not want to disappoint the students she teaches. Jack’s parents and friends are thoughtful and kind. They sometimes tease, but they mean well and look out for his best interests.