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Yesterday (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 1, 2020



Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, James Corden, Ana de Armas, Joel Fry, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Alexander Arnold, Sophia Di Martino, Harry Michell, Ellise Chappell, Sarah Lancashire, Vincent Franklin, Karma Sood, Gus Brown, Karl Theobald Alexander Arnold, Dominic Coleman and Michael Kiwanuka.

Screenplay by Richard Curtis.

Directed by Danny Boyle.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Yesterday taps into a fantasy that I have had on and off for my entire life. And from speaking with other people, I know I’m not alone.

What if you’re in a world where only you know some of the greatest music of all time? Would you perform it and pass it off as your own? If so, would you become a star?

It’s a fantasy that has also been tapped into by film periodically over the years, usually in passing, often in time travel movies. Like when Marty McFly and the Starlighters introduced the 1950s to “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future. Or when Peggy Sue “wrote” the song “She Loves You” for her 1950s band-leader boyfriend in Peggy Sue Got Married and he tried to change the “yeah, yeah, yeah” to “ooh, ooh, ooh.”

It’s a fun, fascinating premise. Specifically, to Yesterday, what if the entire world has forgotten about the music of The Beatles except for one man? (Well, three people, but more on that later…) Not just forgotten, but The Beatles have literally been erased from history. Would that man, a struggling musician, be wrong to perform those songs as if they were his own? Should he feel guilty that he is stealing from the works of people who appear to have disappeared? Would the sheer artistry of the songs make him a star even in a music world that has moved on nearly 50 years since the original (forgotten) band’s breakup?

So right away you know the soundtrack will be amazing. Wall to wall Beatles. How can you go wrong? (Okay, there is a bit of Ed Sheeran music peppered in as seasoning as well.)

Add to that terrific premise the fact that the movie was scripted by a man who was responsible for writing some of my favorite movies ever – Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually, About Time and more – and it’s almost a little pathetic how much I have been looking forward to seeing this movie. It’s certainly one of the top summer releases – if not at the apex of the list – that I have been waiting for.

Now that I have seen it, I can say without reservation, it was worth the wait. Yesterday is smart, sweet, funny, romantic, sometimes sad, sometimes blissful, and easily one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.

Granted, the supernatural aspect of the film is a tiny bit of a leap of faith. The lead character of Yesterday is Jack (Himesh Patel), a struggling singer who is about to give up on his dream of music when he is biking home from the latest of a series of pathetic gigs. He is hit by a bus and knocked out when an odd phenomenon happens – turning off all electricity in the world for a matter of 12 seconds. When the lights are restored, several ubiquitous pop culture items have been erased from existence – like Harry Potter, Coke… and The Beatles.

It is never explained how or why this happened. Nor is it explained how or why this one man still remembers these objects which the rest of the world does not know about. You have to take it on faith if you are going to allow anything wonderful to happen.

As Jack slowly comes to realize that no one other than himself remembers the music of The Beatles, he realizes this could be his way of finding stardom – playing the music of The Beatles and letting people believe it is his own. It starts out small, but the lie starts to snowball as the music spreads from his small British village and starts to become a global YouTube phenomenon.

His music is discovered by pop star Ed Sheeran (doing a good-natured self-effacing supporting role as himself), which leads to him introducing Jack to his manager (Kate McKinnon of SNL is funny in the role, though it is obviously a caricature rather than a character). Jack also gets a record contract and the possibility of international superstardom.

Through Jack’s travels, he keeps running into a man and a woman who appear to somehow know what he is up to, which just makes his guilt for taking credit for the songs skyrocket.

In the meantime, at home, Ellie (Lily James) – the girl who has always been there for him, but who has always been just a friend – supports his career even though they both realize suddenly that maybe they were meant to be more than platonic.

So, yes, in a way this may be the world’s most complex setup for a romantic comedy. Still, the concept is so ingenious and so well realized that hopefully most people will overlook or forgive that.

After all, in the end all you need is love.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: June 28, 2019.

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