Published Jun 20, 2019Imagine if the Beatles never existed, and you could pass off all of their songs as your own. Anyone who has attempted to write pop songs has probably indulged in some variation of this fantasy. That's the basic conceit of Yesterday, a rom-com about struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and his friend-zoned manager Ellie (Lily James). After one particularly disastrous gig, there's a worldwide power outage and Jack is hit by a bus. When he comes to, he has lost two of his front teeth, and the rest of the world has lost all memory that the Beatles ever existed. Seems like a pretty fair trade-off!
Jack claims to have written songs like "Yesterday" and "Let It Be," and it's truly delightful to watch his friends' reactions as they think he's transformed into a genius overnight. Just imagine if you turned on a crappy cable access show and an unknown local songwriter performed the original tune "In My Life." It's a cute concept that will allow audiences to hear these familiar tunes with fresh ears — particularly since Patel is a strong singer who delivers the songs confidently and without affect.
Jack quickly rises to fame, partly thanks to his hilariously callous new manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), and partly thanks to a high-profile gig opening for Ed Sheeran (playing himself, thankfully with plenty of self-deprecation). The always-charming Lamorne Morris makes a too-brief appearance as a smarmy label exec, while Joel Fry is along from the ride as a happy-go-lucky, frequently stoned roadie.
The film runs out of steam a bit in the second half; after the joy of watching Jack introduce the world to the Beatles' songbook, it's considerably less fun to see him go through the emotional turmoil of sudden fame. And his will-they-won't-they friendship with Ellie hits all the predictable beats of a cliché rom-com relationship. Yesterday was written by Richard Curtis, who also penned Love Actually — another sickly sweet film with a similarly ill-advised "All You Need Is Love" scene.
But even when the movie falters, it's still a fluffy bit of fun from the often-serious Danny Boyle. If you like the sound of the elevator pitch — "an alternate universe in which only one person knows about the Beatles!" — then Yesterday won't disappoint.