Directed by Danny Boyle.
Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Camille Chen, Maryana Spivak, Lamorne Morris, James Corden, Harry Michell, Ellise Chappell, Alexander Arnold, Sophia Di Martino, David Lautman, Joel Fry, and Ana de Armas.
A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.
Disappointingly, Yesterday never amounts to anything more than a Hollywood depiction of conversations I’m sure many of us have had; if X never existed I would take advantage of the universe by creating it and making bank. That disappointment is a triple blow once you factor in that visual storyteller Danny Boyle is directing and expert romance writer Richard Curtis is penning the script. The former seems to just give up halfway through the movie (there are a few select great shots in the back half, but for the most part, all the signature style from the filmmaker you get is colorful text plastered over the screen whenever the story changes location), whereas the latter never maximizes the potential of the concept.
Yesterday is a love letter to The Beatles that should be placed back in a bottle and tossed into the ocean; the songs are obviously unforgettable and make for good entertainment (film newcomer Himesh Patel does a serviceable job covering the greatest hits package assembled), but is also too busy going down the blandest route one could possibly take the narrative. Jack is fairly close to receiving the accurate label of failed musician, but once a mysterious worldwide power outage (don’t question it, the plot is incredibly dumb but that’s also one of its only charms) drastically alters the universe to the point where The Beatles’ music never existed, he seizes the opportunity going from rags to riches and a man so famous he suddenly becomes touring was modern-day musical sensation Ed Sheeran (who gets more screen time than I ever expected, surprisingly making for a decent actor; some people can just do it all).
Relocating from the UK to LA (Kate McKinnon plays Jack’s manager once he is on the cusp of making it big, wide-eyed and idiosyncratic as she is for every character) benefits the career, but Jack also further loses sight of the fact that his previous manager and childhood friend Ellie (Lily James) has been in love with him for years. Basically, if the first half is Jack rising in stardom rather generically (the film lacks so much energy, especially for a Danny Boyle project, the only time things truly feel hilariously frenetic is Jack continuously being interrupted by family members as he tries to perform in the living room), the second half is a blasé predictable love story that doesn’t do anything interesting or creative. I was actually craving for Yesterday to get even dumber and more ridiculous for the finale, but it kind of doesn’t, concluding without much of a bang.
Also, and I know it’s already been said, but Yesterday terribly executes the wonderfully depressing idea of the nonexistence of The Beatles. Rather than analyze how such a thing would reshape the current landscape of society, the script is too focused on cracking jokes about other pop-culture phenomenons that have essentially been erased from existence (one of them being a grating instance of product placement). Hey, at least there’s an extended cameo from Ed Sheeran and a talk-show segment with James Corden. Even the inevitable attacks on industry greed land with no bite.
Everyone that worked on Yesterday also deserves to be strapped to a rocket and fired off into the sun for somehow making Lily James one of the least interesting aspects of anything. There is some debate on whether or not her character is problematic, but the real issue is that the character is boring. If she enjoys being a teacher and has no other dream other than Jack falling in love with her, hooray for her. But at least give her strong moments motivating Jack or anything else to do besides being the reason for Jack’s conflicted mental state. She’s charming, Himesh Patel is also endearing, but there’s also something about their scenes together that never pop off. Yesterday is a highly cliché romantic comedy, meaning that despite the clichés the viewer should at least be rooting for the stars to align regarding the leads getting together; I didn’t care here. The more the second half when on the more I just wanted it to end already.
Oddly enough, the real saving grace is the relatively unknown Joel Fry as a dimwitted but lovable down-on-his-luck pal serving as Jack’s assistant. He often does things wrong, behaves inappropriately, and generally says stupid things, but goes about it all with an infectious smile that brings out laughter. If there is justice, he will start to get more work in mainstream comedies. Likewise, Jack’s family are an assortment of goofballs that provide some fun. Keeping that in mind, it’s almost astonishing that the major characters are so bland.
However, if you really love The Beatles and fancy the idea of their classic songs being at the center of the romantic comedy, I must also admit it’s difficult to imagine that person not liking the movie. There are even some surprises in store for diehard fans. Still, the wacky premise never emerges as anything other than a vessel for endless massive idolization, which is going to continue for the band whether this movie exists or not. Everyone else can put Yesterday off until tomorrow and beyond.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com