Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Imagine saying, “WTF are you on about?!” to that, rather than acknowledging it as a top opening line from a classic song by The Beatles. A key theme of Yesterday is a simple question: What if nobody remembered the Fab Four?
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician. He’s an OK guitarist, he’s an OK singer and he’s an OK songwriter – there’s just nothing particularly special there. But after a freak worldwide electricity blackout, and getting hit by a bus because of it, there suddenly is something very special about him. Somehow, he’s seemingly the only person who remembers that The Beatles – and, by turn, their incredible catalogue of songs – ever existed.
He soon discovers that playing these songs gets his musical ambitions more attention, and he likes how it feels. Hang any moral dilemmas, people beyond his small circle of friends suddenly want hear him sing and play! Some bloke named Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran playing himself, and still managing to be a better singer than actor) even happens to hear him, Jack gets a huge support gig, the crowd goes wild, “Who is this incredible songwriter?”, crazy fame ensues, along comes a new manager, and so on. But as he laps up newfound success, will Jack’s troubles always seem so far away?
While the no-Beatles thing is an interesting – and entertaining – hypothetical, it’s really just the plot device upon which hangs the crux of the tale, which is purely a double-barrelled classic love story. Hey, we’re talking Richard Curtis here! Jack’s manager for years has been Ellie (Lily James), and our morally dodgy troubadour is the only one on the entire planet who can’t see how blatantly she adores him.
There are higher concepts at play here – was it The Beatles songs, their personalities, their timing or the entire package that led to their success? – but they’re not deeply explored. Here it’s about the songs. Beyond the Jack and Ellie show, it’s totally a love letter to the songs, be it She Loves You or The Long and Winding Road. They get heard by fresh ears, they’re instantly loved, Jack becomes huge.
The Beatles aren’t the only thing that’s been erased from living memory in this world though. While pushing this part of the concept further feels a bit clunky (and random), and only ultimately seems to exist for a quite throwaway gag at the film’s end, it does set up the movie’s best LOL moment fairly early on, which we won’t spoil. Suffice to say, if you were into ’90s music, then you’ll know what’s the story when it hits.
Speaking of, Pulp’s pop masterpiece Common People is also given deserved props at one point. That has nothing to do with the big picture, but we just wanted to mention it.
As Patel and James bounce along nicely throughout in typical “Will they or won’t they?” and “What could have been?” romcom fashion, supporting players elevate proceedings. Joel Fry is great value as Jack’s happy-go-lucky minder mate Rocky, while Kate McKinnon is an absolute hoot as the totally off-kilter American manager Debra Hammer. Through her and others, many skewers are forcefully inserted into various ridiculous facets of the recording business – and, as long as you’re not within that particular biz, it feels good.
While Danny Boyle may have directed, this is totally a Richard Curtis film – and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you adored the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually or About Time then you’ll have an idea of the unashamedly sentimental vibe to expect, and that expectation will be delivered – with the bonus of 17 great songs to listen to along the way. Yesterday is the most uplifting story revolving around creative thievery that’s ever been committed to film.
Oh, and do stay through the end credits. No matter how big your stereo, you’re unlikely to hear the original version of Hey Jude ever sounding so wonderfully huge.
In cinemas: June 27, 2019
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran
Directed by: Danny Boyle