A world without music from The Beatles? It’s hard to “Imagine” right. But of course it’s not as simple as never having their classics played on the radio or not being able to find an album or song lyrics, basically any idea of them ever existing. Of course, that’s a bit too much to tackle in a movie, so director Danny Boyle simplifies things by serving up a 12 second global power outage in which starts the beginning of ‘Yesterday’.
The film tells the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), an amateur musician who is trying to break into the industry with the help of his best friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James), but during that random power outage, he gets hit by a truck riding his bike home and wakes up in an alternate universe where several things have turned out to have never existed, but most importantly the Beatles and their songs. Jack decides to take advantage of this, and uses the Beatles’ music to launch his career, becoming the most famous pop star in the world.
That premise sounds great, and I was looking forward to a surreal comedy, but to be honest, it doesn’t quite live up to it, instead getting distracted by what the actual main plot turned out to be: a cliche romantic comedy with the childhood friend that is secretly in love with the protagonist, only for him to figure it out for himself later. aka..a generic romcom.
The best moments of this film are to do with the central premise of the alternate universe, where Jack would reference something, only for the people around him to say “what’s that?” I mean, it’s the same joke in different words basically every time, but hey, the way they execute it is pretty good. There are also some decent satirical moments with Jack interacting with the music industry, personified by Jack’s manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), and an extended cameo by Ed Sheeran, who falls victim to some self-deprecating jokes, and Rocky (Joel Fry) his ‘roadie’ who honestly was one of the funniest characters in the film.
Speaking of the Beatles, you’d be surprised by how little they actually contribute to the plot. For a film that is named after one of their more famous songs, you’d think that their music and impact to society would be more than just a plot device for the main character to achieve his success. There’s no real commentary as to why the Beatles music is so great, you’re just told, over and over again, that they’re the greatest band ever, and that a world without them ever existing would suck. Sure, that is something I would agree with, but the film doesn’t really add much of their own perspective to that side of the story, it just takes that idea as fact.
The romance is decent, but cliche and overall unremarkable. Screenwriter Richard Curtist definitely knows how to write romances, having written several well regarded romcoms, like “Love Actually” and “About Time“, but I would say that ‘Yesterday’ isn’t quite up to that standard. Same goes for Danny Boyle and the other films he directed compared to this. The direction isn’t bad, but it’s bland and doesn’t really add much to the story.
I guess if you like romcoms and Beatles music, this movie will definitely be watchable, and truthfully, it is entertaining enough..but just barely enough and it slides through it’s two hour run time, and overall I’m disappointed that they didn’t take full advantage of the great premise and really run with it.
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Media Review Screening: Monday, June 24, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Studios
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