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Yesterday

EVERYONE IN THE WORLD HAS FORGOTTEN THE BEATLES. EVERYONE EXCEPT JACK…

Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie. After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles.

“Yesterday” has an irresistible premise: A struggling singer-songwriter wakes up in an alternate world in which the Beatles never existed. He’s the only one who remembers the songs. So now he has a blank check. He can work his way through the entire catalog, presenting the songs as his own. That’s a great idea for a movie. But where does it go from there? That was always going to be the challenge, and the good news is that “Yesterday” is more than a clever “what if.” Without ever being obvious, this Danny Boyle film has interesting things to say about the nature of stardom and the consequences of fame.

At the center of the film is Himesh Patel as Jack, who is a good enough singer to put over the songs, but otherwise seems like a regular guy, of average looks and no special magnetism. That’s ideal for the story. He’s not those four lovable lads; nor does he benefit from coming along just at the right time in cultural history. Thus, even with some of the best songs of the 20th century in his pocket, there’s no guarantee that he’s going to be successful.

One thing “Yesterday” does is rather miraculous. It forces us to hear these Beatles songs as if for the first time. The title number, “Yesterday,” for example, is practically Muzak at this point. But when, early in the film, Jack sings it for a group of people who’ve never heard it before, we share in their experience. Wow. That really is a great song. Along the way, the movie forces us to consider the consequences of fame. It is a natural thing, as a viewer, to want the best for whoever the lead character happens to be, and the best is usually defined as whatever the lead character wants: fame, money, power. Who wouldn’t want those things?

Yet when contemplating this kind of celebrity — the rabid, devouring fame these songs have the power to create — it’s worth remembering: One of the guys in the Beatles got so famous he was murdered by a deranged fan. And another one (George Harrison) came very close to getting killed when a deranged fan broke into his home and stabbed him. So these songs are more than delightful, addictive and timeless. They’re dangerous. All this might make “Yesterday” sound like a heavy experience. In fact, it’s a testament to the intelligence and skill of Richard Curtis’ and Jack Barth’s screenplay that the movie feels breezy and fun, even as it touches on serious issues. And then there are the songs, every one of them a gem, all of them well performed, usually in interesting situations.

Real-life musician Ed Sheeran plays the man who first discovers Jack’s talent, and while he is humble enough to see himself as Salieri in comparison to Jack’s Mozart, he doesn’t hesitate offering advice when needed. You know that song “Hey Jude”? Sheeran has a small suggestion for a title change: “Hey, Dude.” Kate McKinnon brings most of the film’s laughs as Jack’s utterly mercenary manager, who doesn’t even pretend to be nice. It’s an extended version of the sort of twisted characters she specializes in on “Saturday Night Live.” Best of all, there’s Lily James, as Jack’s best friend since childhood. It’s not too early to say that James is already one of the most charming people in movies, and so straightforward and convincing in manner that, when she looks at Jack, we believe that all the wonderful things she sees in him are really there.

By the way, Beatles obsessives will notice that Paul McCartney does most of the heavy lifting in “Yesterday.” McCartney songs, such as “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road,” are strongly showcased, while Lennon’s contributions (“Help” and “In My Life”) are on a par with Harrison’s (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun”). However, the filmmakers do, ultimately, figure out a way to pay proper tribute to Lennon, and it turns out to be the most moving thing in the entire movie." - San Francisco Chronicle 

Directed by: 
Danny Boyle
Running Time: 
116m
Country(ies): 
UK
Year: 
2019
Language: 
English
Starring: 
Himesh Patel, Lily James
Rated: 
PG

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