What is there to say about The Beatles that hasn’t been said already? They were one of the greatest bands of all time that generated hit album after hit album. Decades after they broke up, they’re still remembered for their musicianship and some of the risks they took in their more experimental songs. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are four names that will be forever etched into history.
But what if The Beatles never existed? That’s the question posed in the new movie Yesterday.
A struggling singer/songwriter named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) wakes up from an accident in an alternate timeline where The Beatles never existed. He discovers this by playing the titular song in front of his friends, who are all amazed and believe that he just wrote it. He performs these songs to people who have no idea that they’re not his and becomes an overnight success. At one point, he even gets contacted by Ed Sheeran to be an opening act. His sudden fame, however, makes his relationship with his girlfriend Ellie (Lily James) complicated.
The movie has been marketed as a romantic comedy by writer Richard Curtis, who people may remember as the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, and About Time. His mark is made clear by the movie’s primarily British setting and charming characters. To me, however, the romance section is where it fell flat. Ellie sees his wall of Beatles titles and a misunderstanding arises when she sees female names in the titles such as “Julia” and “Sexy Sadie”, all under a column titled “And I Love Her”. The movie even had the tired cliché of Jack running through a train station to meet up with Ellie.
I also felt a bit of disappointment in Danny Boyle’s directing. It’s not bad directing, but it lacked his typical style that appears in films like Trainspotting, 127 Hours and the multiple Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. His directing is more restrained so it can take a backseat to Curtis’ script, which is fine, but I can’t help but wonder if any other directors could give me the same effect (or better).
Where the movie works, in my opinion, is when it becomes a satire of the music industry. Along with Ed Sheeran playing himself, SNL alum Kate McKinnon plays a manager looking to capitalize on Jack’s sudden fame. I love McKinnon on SNL but always wished she was as good in the movies. Even though her screen time is minimal, she steals every scene she’s in. The laughs I got were from some of the alterations to Beatles classics, such as Ed Sheeran wanting to rename “Hey Jude” to “Hey Dude”. It really adds to the “What If” scenario watching these classic songs go through a filter of today’s industry.
Both Patel and James are good in their parts. The supporting cast is good even though they’re never really fleshed out past being friends or family to the two. Patel is the MVP of the movie, and plus, he’s got a great singing voice, which elevates the covers of whatever Beatles songs they could get the rights to. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.
Yesterday falls short as a Richard Curtis romantic comedy that chooses to follow clichés and misunderstandings. The movie works best as a music industry satire that poses the better question “What if The Beatles went through today’s music world?”Add a couple of really good performances and you get a feel good movie that’s clichéd but well meaning. A movie by Beatles fans, for Beatles fans.
Yesterday is now in theaters worldwide.