March 20, 2020

“Yesterday” Review: The Beatles Get a Jukebox Musical

Patel did all of the singing and playing himself in the film.
It’s safe to say that almost everyone knows the music written by the Beatles — ‘Let it Be,’ ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ and ‘Help!’ are some of the most iconic songs of all time, and they’re only some of the band’s biggest hits. They’re also among the vast number of Beatles songs featured in the film Yesterday, which is itself named after one of their songs.

Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a struggling musician, in Yesterday. Jack intends to retire from doing small gigs in pubs and local festivals, much to the chagrin of his manager and best friend, Ellie Appleton (Lily James). The following night, when Jack is biking back to his house, he’s hit by a bus at the exact same time as a twelve-second blackout all around the world. When he wakes up, he’s missing two teeth — but more pressingly, no one remembers the Beatles.

To some, it might sound like a silly or simple premise, but it proves to be an entertaining one as Jack debates whether he should pass off the Beatles’ music off as his own. Since they didn’t exist in this alternate reality he woke up in, there should be no harm done, right?

Richard Curtis’s script, while cliché, is charming, and provides interesting dialogue for most, if not all, of the characters. The bulk of the story focuses on Jack and Ellie, as one might expect from a romantic comedy, and as the viewer, I found myself genuinely interested in the outcome, frustrated by the romantic tension, and rooting for them to emerge together in the end. It reminded me of Curtis’s iconic 2003 rom-com Love Actually, but since I was also a fan of that film, so I didn’t mind the similarities.

Ed Sheeran is a surprisingly fun addition to the cast.
The most important aspect of the film, in my opinion, is morality. Should Jack pass the songs off as his own? What are the implications of that? It should be okay, because everybody else has forgotten the Beatles in this world, right? The film answers these questions and more over the course of its two-hour runtime.

Aside from Patel and James, the cast is rounded out by Kate McKinnon (clearly in her comedic element) as Jack’s obsessive agent, Debra Hammer, who provides the best comic relief of the film; Joel Fry plays Jack’s irreverent friend and roadie Rocky; Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal are Jack’s supportive yet absent-minded parents, Jed and Sheila; and pop singer Ed Sheeran has a small but memorable role as a fictionalized version of himself. Sheeran clearly isn’t accustomed to acting, but his part in the film is still indelibly essential.

While Yesterday doesn’t explore its premise as much as it could have, it’s still a delightful fantasy with enough substance to be enjoyed by all ages. The romance element gets a little tiresome, but it’ll leave you with a happy feeling inside — and, most of it all, it’ll want to make you sing those classic songs that will (hopefully) never, ever truly be forgotten. [Grade: A]

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Richard Curtis
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry, Robert Carlyle
Rated: PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Available: On Demand
Fun Fact: Bhaskar and Syal, who played Jack’s parents, have been married in real life since 2005.

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