Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran
Screenplay: Richard Curtis
116 mins. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.
Yesterday is kind of a strange movie. Ever since I first heard bits and pieces about its story and style, I found myself to be a bit confused. I wasn’t really sure what a film like this could say about anything, and I didn’t really see where a character-driven journey could go that actually made the film’s existence worth it. Really, the only pure driving force that kept me interested was Danny Boyle (127 Hours, T2 Trainspotting) as director. As my screening grew closer, though, I found my curiosity building and my excitement rising, though I couldn’t really tell you why. Upon seeing the film, I still think it’s rather strange, but I cannot fault it for finding a very human and moving story through the eyes of a struggling artist, and it’s a film definitely worth trying.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, The Fox, TV’s EastEnders) is a struggling musician trying to find an audience. He knows there’s something special in his music. His manager and close friend, Ellie (Lily James, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), knows it too, but for some reason, he just cannot find the fame he’s been looking for. He’s decided to give up on his dream, but that night, a major power outage occurs across the entire Earth and he is accidentally hit by a bus that doesn’t see him in the dark streets. When Jack wakes up, he discovers that he is in an alternate history where The Beatles never existed. He remembers them perfectly, but no one else does. Now, everyone has fallen in love with Jack’s songs, but they aren’t really his, and he finds that the fame he’s been seeking doesn’t mean much if you aren’t happy with yourself. Jack is in a situation where he must decide if a career of fortunes surrounding a lie is worth losing the woman he loves in the process.
The central relationship between Himesh Patel’s Jack and Lily James’s Ellie is so great and pure. She’s been his biggest supporter for fifteen years, loving him from afar and showing it with her belief and dedication and he fails to see what she needs from him. Sometimes, those relationships between friends really strain because both parties aren’t getting what they need from each other, and Ellie has ended up in a friend/manager column of his life instead of a love column. Now, I fail to see how any person wouldn’t fall in love with Lily James instantly, but for the purposes of this review, I will say that Jack’s eyes are set on the eventual fame and career he wants, and it makes for a moving struggle between two people who obviously love each other but just cannot get their paths to come together in the right way to make it work.
Now, there’s some logic issues to the film that I was hoping wouldn’t keep coming to mind, but Jack wakes up in a version of the world where The Beatles never existed as a band. As the story progresses, we see that their non-existence has an effect on more than just their music’s absence, so the question arises as to how Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Pop Star) became a musician if his primary influence never existed. Would he have pursued music? The Beatles aren’t the only band that doesn’t exist. Oasis never became a band and sang Wonderwall. There are writers that didn’t exist. There are products that were never invented. It never really explains what the central break in these timelines is or how it affected certain things but not others. Would Coldplay have existed? The film reminded me of Us or Avengers: Endgame where, if you let the logic gaps or questions bother you then you’ll miss out on the journey itself, so it’s best not to think about it. But the question did come up for me.
In that same vein, there are questions raised about the nature of a song like Back in the USSR, which Jack claims to have written the day of a concert in Russia. Ed Sheeran points out that it hasn’t been called the USSR since before Jack was born, and it’s a funny scene because it does point out the potential for problems in making music at a different time than was intended, or if you didn’t live the life of the person who wrote it. It comes up again with Hey Jude later on. I really liked when Jack’s narrative was tested; I just wanted more of it. For example, later in the film, Jack sings I Saw Her Standing There, which starts with the lyric “She was just seventeen…” and when I heard him sing it, I thought to myself that a song like that probably wouldn’t exist in this timeframe without some controversy. It’s something I wish Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) would have delved into more.
Then there’s Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, TV’s Saturday Night Live), who in the film essentially plays Kate McKinnon. She’s a very capable actress but sometimes she is used to excess, and the film struggles to find a use for her near the end, causing her to turn into a quite an annoyance by the end. I get what she’s trying to do, but the narrative doesn’t need it.
If the central relationship and moral quandary of the film didn’t work, Yesterday would be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, those two elements make for an extremely satisfying film, one that created conflict even among the people watching the film with me. It isn’t exactly going to leave you in a place you expect, but the film overall is surprisingly enjoyable and a good example of uniquely interesting ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. This is one I’ll be recommending for some time.
-Kyle A. Goethe