Following his premature departure from “Bond 25” early last year (at this point, a wise move), director Danny Boyle quickly teamed-up with screenwriter Richard Curtis on a secret project. Universal kept the plot under wraps until the title and first trailer were released back in February.
“Yesterday” has one of the most intriguing concepts of any 2019 movie: There’s a global power outage (for, literally, 12-seconds). When the lights come back on, only one person knows who the Beatles are. And he just happens to be a struggling singer/songwriter living in England.
Himesh Patel stars as Jack Malek. Patel’s previously appeared on a handful of TV shows and in a few shorts, but “Yesterday” marks his feature film/big-time acting debut. And he’s outstanding. Jack is riding his bike when the outage occurs. He gets hit by a bus, lands on his face and loses two teeth. Following a brief recovery, he plays a Beatles song for a few friends (including longtime manager Ellie, played by criminally underrated Lily James). None of them recognize the song or anything associated with the legendary band. Jack thinks he’s going insane.
Turns out — no one else on the planet has heard of The Beatles, either. John, Paul, George and Ringo, and their iconic music, seem to have escaped from everyone’s consciousness or never truly existed.
There’s a major challenge present throughout “Yesterday”: How are Boyle and Curtis going to make all of this make sense? They don’t make getting there easy for the audience. Many scenes go way over-the-top, leading us to believe this story is a fable, pure fantasy. However, some are played with genuine realism, pushing us toward believing in “Yesterday”. But which is it?
My take is that “Yesterday” HAS to be a fantasy. And there are plenty of clues to support this theory. Boyle and Curtis use unconventional methods throughout. They also take some big chances in the third act that will no doubt catch you by surprise, and question the entire methodology. But the results are quirkily satisfying.
“Yesterday” is one of the most rapidly-paced two-hour movies I’ve ever seen. The concept of “overnight sensation” is taken to the extreme, as Jack becomes an instant pop culture phenom for performing the Beatles song library of incredible hits and claiming them as his own. Kate McKinnon plays his new, ruthless manager. And real-life pop phenom Ed Sheeran gets a surprising amount of screen time, playing a caricature of himself. There are a number of fun moments involving Patel and Sheeran.
This is both a cautionary tale about chasing stardom and a romance. Ellie’s loved Jack since they were kids, but he’s never been interested in her. This conflict results is some strong scenes between Malik and James, some that don’t rely on much dialogue. You do root for these two, though the climactic “revelation” doesn’t hit the emotional high note that was intended.
Still, “Yesterday” is a sweet, unique story featuring with some of the greatest music of all-time. Patel’s renditions of 34 songs were recorded, where else, but at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Not everything makes 100% sense. And your interpretation of this story — as is the case with a challenging song — may be entirely different than mine. That’s OK — and ultimately — may just be the point.