REVIEW: Yesterday (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Universal Pictures

The following is a review of Yesterday — Directed by Danny Boyle.

What would you do if you woke up one day and found yourself in a world where no one knew of The Beatles? Just picture it. This world wouldn’t think of John, Paul, Ringo, and George when they thought of Abbey Road. People wouldn’t know the words to “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” or “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” and you would be the only one in the world who could be the vessel and voice of their genius. Would you tell the world of their music, or would you make a career off of their work? In Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, the failing musician Jack Malik (played by Himesh Patel) finds himself in that situation after he is involved in, and knocked out by, a car crash during a worldwide power outage. Malik eventually decides to take credit for the song-writing to advance his career, but, in doing so, he soon realizes that he’s letting go of the person that means the most to him.

I’m a big fan of Danny Boyle. Boyle is a versatile director who has made genuinely exciting science fiction films, like Sunshine and 28 Days Later, that are sure to be future classics of the genre. He has made the terrific, generation-defining black comedy Trainspotting, and he has made the underseen and underappreciated triptych Steve Jobs. I will always be excited to watch a Danny Boyle film. I would also say that I am partial to some of screenwriter Richard Curtis’ films, and, like any sane person, I have a lot of love and appreciation for The Beatles. This film should be right up my alley, and, frankly, it is, even though it’s not exactly as ambitious as I wanted it to be.

Yesterday is just as significant and sweet as cotton candy. Boyle’s latest film is slight but lovely. Yesterday is a fluffy charmer about recognizing those around you that love you and keep you afloat. I enjoyed the film greatly. The film’s message is that one should not lose one’s head while chasing some impossible dream if it means ignoring those that mean something to you. Its message can, appropriately, be summed up by a popular 1960s era The Beatles single that is the ultimate tribute to the power of love. It is a very sweet film with a wibbly wobbly timey wimey narrative concept that screenwriter Richard Curtis is no stranger to as he was the man behind About Time, which is another crowd-pleasing romantic-comedy with a unique premise. All you need is love, and director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis are happy to preach that message in their fluffy and slight wish fulfillment romantic comedy.

The film includes these genuinely clever sequences of Malik trying to remember the lyrics to iconic The Beatles songs that are easy to misquote. I also greatly enjoyed how smart the film was in not just removing one random band from the world. Whenever the film reveals what else is missing, it leads to genuinely funny reactions from Himesh Patel. Patel is a delightful leading man for this absurd but heartwarming romantic comedy. Patel also sings all of the songs and does a genuinely good job. While Patel gives a star-making performance as the affable Jack Malik, Lily James’ Ellie is absolutely adorable and wholesome. Ellie is Malik’s longtime friend and original manager and roadie who is later replaced when he starts going on tour. James is predictably charming and Himesh Patel shows how entertaining he can be, but, out of nowhere, Ed Sheeran swoops in and steals several scenes from other stars.

Sheeran plays a heightened version of himself, and he actually does a really good job here. He isn’t quite as good as Keanu Reeves was in Always Be My Maybe, but Sheeran is funny, self-deprecating, and he gives one of the most memorable supporting performances in the film. However, Kate McKinnon, who plays Sheeran’s manager, doesn’t fare as well. Some of the characterizations are on-the-nose, stereotypical and cartoonish. McKinnon’s cartoonish and jarring performance frustrated me as she, in particular, seemed to have misunderstood what movie she was in. Actually, both Lamorne Morris and Kate McKinnon’s performances clashed with the charming feel of the rest of the film.

I was disappointed by the narrative development and ambition of the film. Yesterday is ultimately quite predictable and, at one point, the film almost stalls like an airplane piloted by a drowsy pilot-in-training as the story doesn’t know how to advance Malik’s celebrity status excitingly. Also, for some reason, Curtis and Boyle thought it was a good idea to include an unnecessary and manipulative scene — the one with Robert Carlyle — which made me feel extremely uneasy.

It is the kind of scene that is meant to be heartfelt and respectful, but which can easily feel like an act of sacrilege to certain groups. The scene in question reminded me of a scene in Ready Player One that many praised, while I, at the same time, criticized it for potentially doing damage to the legacy of a certain film. It’s tough to discuss these scenes without doing a spoiler-filled discussion. I have a feeling this scene won’t be a problem for the vast majority of audiences, though, as, one might argue, it is in line with the film’s focus on wish fulfillment.

Furthermore, the film skirts around some topics that might’ve made for a much more interesting film. For example, every time they bring up the idea that Jack Malik isn’t finding as much success as the actual Beatles because of his talent (though he must be uniquely gifted to have memorized all of the right musical notes and instruments to every song), image or ethnicity, it is shrugged off as an instance in which Malik is just being impatient or grumpy.

While it may not be as ambitious as it could’ve been, Danny Boyle’s simple but irresistible and winning ‘what-if’ film Yesterday will charm your socks off eight days a week. However, I do fear that it is the kind of slight crowd-pleaser that starts to slowly fall apart the more you think about it.

7 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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