The Beatles are easily the most iconic band of all time - their music is simply unforgettable, and even if they aren’t your favourite band you have a favourite a song or admire how they changed the industry. A few films have used their music in quite creative ways before like ‘Across the Universe’ and even the films starting the men themselves, but ‘Yesterday’ takes on the genius idea of what if you were the only one who could remember The Beatles.
And that’s sadly where the genius of ‘Yesterday’ stops. The film stumbles from the get-go with weak characters, weird camera angles, and the biggest failure - the lack of music.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, TV's ‘EastEnders’) is an aspiring musician, managed by his childhood friend Ellie (Lily James, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’), playing failed gig after failed gig. On a bike ride home, the world experiences an unexplainable 12-second blackout and Jack gets hit by a bus. When he wakes up, he is the only one in the world who remembers The Beatles. Jack takes the opportunity to boost his music career and perform legendary songs no one has heard before. This gets the attention of Ed Sheeran (‘Bridget Jones's Baby’, ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’), causing Jack to become the biggest singer in the world.
The acting here is such a mixed bag. Lily James (as always) is just so incredibly charming, but her character arc is confusing and convoluted. Himesh Patel does a fine job but never leaves too big an impression - he's a good singer and provides some nice covers, but yet again Jack's character shows no growth; outside of becoming famous, his changes are so small. Ed Sheeran is actually pretty passable, providing some great laughs. The oddest choice is Kate McKinnon (‘Ghostbusters’, ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’) - and I say this as some who loves her is Kate McKinnon. This just wasn’t a role for her; she's both the greedy manager who wants money but also the comic relief. It just didn’t work and made a very confused movie tonally even more confused.
The premise is extremely simple, and while I’m not wanting an explanation for why only Jack or why The Beatles, the film convolutes its logic by adding in too many variables for the sake of a joke. Not only is Jack the only one who can remember The Beatles, but also Oasis' ‘Wonderwall’ and Coke and ‘Harry Potter’. The idea that it’s just The Beatles is fine - you don’t need cheap jokes that confuse the world and bog down on the logic. Having these raises too many questions; it's better just to keep your "what if?" story simple. I mean, the freaking flossing dance exists, what’s the limit? (‘Booksmart’ is the only film where flossing is allowed.)
The film stumbles from the get-go with weak characters, weird camera angles, and the biggest failure - the lack of music.
Jack’s manager wants to change his image to make him more appealing, but no change really happens. The movie keeps making jokes about his appearance and how no one will see him until they have worked his look out, but Jack already has millions of fans - people saw him at an Ed Sheeran concert. When he arrives at an airport, there is a group of fans waiting for him - and this is before the manger wants to change him. I understand having this arc but sick with it; it’s just lazy and the only look change that happens is the fact he wears a suit (so dramatic, I know).
Without spoiling anything, there are a lot of ways you can end this story, and the one they chose was fine but again wildly uncreative. There is a moment that I think a lot of Beatles fans won’t enjoy and will actually find mildly insensitive. A problem of "rising musician" stories - even the biopics - is that we never really know how big Jack is. We are just kind of assuming because he is singing The Beatles' hits, he's the biggest star in the world.
The music is also extremely downplayed. There isn’t much we hear outside of what’s in the trailer, expect of course Ed Sheeran’s new song - it's very important we hear all of that. They paid $10 million for rights to use The Beatles music and it almost feels wasted - it’s unfortunate, but just another failing of the film. Songs are performed in 30 seconds snippets and don’t really motivate the audience to pull out the old Beatles catalogue in the same way ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Rocketman’ does.
‘Yesterday’ takes its genius idea and unfortunately turns it into a generic film. Both director Danny Boyle (‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Steve Jobs’) and writer Richard Curtis (‘Love Actually’, ‘About Time’) have proven their creativity before, but here it's just wasted along with everything else.