Yesterday has one of the most ingenious premises to come out of modern cinema. Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, as wannabe singer who finds himself playing guitar in practically empty venues. On the verge of giving up, Jack is hit by a bus at the exact second a worldwide blackout occurs. When he comes to, Jack is shocked to learn that nobody other than himself remembers who the Beatles are. It’s an idea worthy of a classic Twilight Zone episode, albeit with a more lighthearted edge. Of course, having a promising setup is one thing. The execution is quite another.
From Transcendenceto The Purge, there have been numerous movies with phenomenal concepts that couldn’t reach their full potential. Yesterday, however, has a couple secret weapons in its camp, namely director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis. Both of these creative minds have a knack for taking strong ideas and molding them into something special. In Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle gave us a modern fairy tale that made audiences believe in the impossible. Through films like Love Actually and War Horse, Curtis juggled a series of storylines cleverly tied together by a common theme. With Yesterday, Boyle and Curtis deliver on a gripping storyline full of unexpected twists and shouts.
Jack is in a unique position to recreate the greatest songs of all time and pass them off as his own. As much as he’s listened to the Beatles’ greatest hits, though, remembering the lyrics to every song is easier sung than done. Even as Jack begins to piece the songs together, there’s still the question of why he’s writing songs about Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby when he’s never even been to Liverpool. The music he plays is so captivating, however, that nobody really seems to care about his creative process. Ed Sheeran, playing himself in a marvelous cameo, bows down to Jack as a true music god while a money-grubbing agent, played by Kate McKinnon in one of her funniest performances, strives to milk Jack for every cent he’s worth.
Climbing the ladder of fame and fortune, Jack begins to contemplate if what he’s doing is ethically sound. The more he gains, the more he seems to lose, including his childhood friend and possibly the love of his life, Ellie (Lily James). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the message in a Beatles movie is that all you need is love. This moral is carried out with such wit and charm, however, that it’s hard to view the film through a cynical lens. Yesterday is actually quite of a Frank Capra picture with its lovely romance, quirky side characters, and a sincere lesson we can all take to heart. Even if the love story can be familiar at times, the way we get to its inevitable conclusion is anything but conventional.
If I have one qualm with Yesterday, it’s a dream sequence that feels like a cheap shot, especially if you saw the movie’s trailer. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for the film to recover from that hiccup with a surprise moment that pulls the rug out from under us in all the right ways. Yesterday does pretty much everything one would anticipate with this premise while also taking the story in a few unforeseen directions. It answers just enough of our questions while also keeping several details widely clouded in mystery. At the center of everything is a collection of timeless songs with a fresh sound.