By Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Honorary Sixth Beatle
Given how saturated with explosive blockbusters and other CGI-laden megahits the summer film season can be, it’s always refreshing to see what counter-programming emerges as a healing balm to all the noise and busy visuals on the big screen. What’s even more unusual is a lighthearted film from Danny Boyle, a famous film director mostly known for his narcotic-filled thrillers and dramas, who steps up to adapt one of the most inventive stories in years.
The film’s premise is clever yet familiar and addictive: What if you were a struggling musician longing for recognition, then had an unfortunate traffic accident, only to wake up to realize that you seem to be the only one to remember the Beatles had ever existed?
This is what Suffolk-based artist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) sees himself faced with, after strumming one of the Fab Four’s hits on his guitar for a small group of friends near the beach, only for the stunned gathering to praise him for such original and catchy lyricism.
Assuming he’s being pranked or put on as a “get well” joke, Jack soon realizes he can’t find a single shred of evidence that John, Paul George and Ringo ever united as a band, leaving the world without a repertoire by what was arguably the most popular band in modern history.
So, what is a struggling musician to do with such an opportunity? Well, with no one to really call him on it, Jack begins to pass off Beatles hits as his own, quickly becoming a worldwide sensation. Faced with some sobering logistical challenges (I mean, how does one look up Beatles lyrics if they never existed) and some ethical quandaries about integrity and the personal toll of stardom on one’s life, can Jack keep up the charade for long without ruining his relationship with those he holds most dear?
For a modest tale wrapped in music and situational comedy, Yesterday has just the right mixture of feel-good moments and cultural mirth that made indie films like Alan Parker’s The Commitments such a fan fave back in 1991, with a tale of a struggling young man who finds himself looking for shortcuts to fame, and unprepared with the reality of how one must live with one’s self when aware of just how hollow the result can be, when walking into someone’s well-worn footsteps.
Lead actor Himesh Patel doesn’t overdo it, infusing Jack with just enough bewilderment to convince us that he’s just as flabbergasted by his predicament as anyone else would be, including the frustrating process of trying to mentally recall every single lyric to literally dozens of Beatles songs…not that anyone would know the difference in this case.
Lily James plays Ellie, the girl that got away and might have been worth sharing the fame with, while Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) plays the aggressively ambitious record label exec who wishes to squeeze every once of genius output out of her wunderkind discovery. Look for a heartwarming role by Joel Fry as Rocky, Jack and Ellie’s good natured but dense and flighty buddy, and a fun turn by Ed Sheeran as a fictionalized version of himself who seeks to help budding star Jack face the world of popular music, soon realizing he might be outranked by such Beatlesque output.
Let’s face it: Although the film might not be the first to consider this type of premise (a 2011 French graphic novel explored similar lines), it’s still a fun and challenging one that puts us in the driver’s seat, helping us realize we’d have just as hard a time not only deciding whether to pass off brilliance as our own to help the Beatles music live on, but also making us realize that we may not know their lyrics as well as we should, at least without cheating or Googling. Personally, I think I may know all of Yesterday, Twist and Shout and If I Fell.
Honestly, Yesterday is a great turn by a humble cast, isn’t too heavy on the rom-com aspect while still able to tug at your heart strings. Also, you’ll be humming Fab Four tunes the rest of the week.
Blu-Ray special features include an alternate opening and ending, the ubiquitous gag reel, featurettes on Ed Sheeran and Kate McKinnon, longer versions of filmed songs performed by Himesh Patel onscreen, the actor’s journey into mastering his instrument and singing ability to carry off the role, and deleted scenes.