A world without The Beatles is like a world without music. For over a half century, The Beatles songbook has resonated throughout pop culture, influencing and inspiring countless artists who in turn invigorated others. The Beatles created their own musical “butterfly effect” across the universe, mostly for the good (exclude “Helter Skelter”).
So, imagine poor Jack Malik (newcomer Himesh Patel), a struggling musician whose biggest (and only) fan is his manager, Ellie Appleton, played by the spirited Lily James (“Cinderella”). After playing on the street corners and small pubs, Jack explains, “You and I know I have talent, but our audience doesn’t seem to think so.” Considering an alternative career, he rationalizes, “It would take a miracle to change my mind.”
Without notice, Jack gets conked out during a series of solar flares. He awakens to find none of his friends have heard of The Beatles (or Coke or cigarettes). Is he dreaming, hallucinating or being punked? After this ordeal, he sings “Yesterday” to his friends, who tell him that’s the most beautiful song he’s ever written. Whaaat?
Director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) passed up 2020’s “Bond 25” to make this movie. Based on a story by Jack Barth, writer Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) kicked the serious story and screenplay up a notch and into a lightweight romantic comedy. It’s a feel good-movie with a mild satirical poke at the music industry and lots of Beatles tunes.
After Googling and pinching himself, Jack sees an opportunity, and who wouldn’t? He has the talent to sing, play guitar and keyboards. He is likable and has a chance to show everyone that he does indeed have something special, even if that special something came from somebody else. Who would be the wiser?
There are twenty Beatles tunes included in this movie, the most ever in a non-Beatles movie. Securing the rights was the largest budget item for the filmmakers, but every single one was worth the money. Patel is indeed a talented musician and carries a Beatles-friendly voice. He varies the arrangement for each song, so combined with his awe-struck friends, it’s as if we are experiencing these songs anew for ourselves.
Even the musical score, by Daniel Pemberton, includes snippets of arrangements from The Beatles songs. We enjoyed the light humor, but Curtis needs to trust his audiences to understand the jokes without having somebody in the scene explain them. As Jack is jotting down all The Beatles songs he can remember on Post-it Notes, he gets a chance to meet Ed Sheeran, who in real life, credits The Beatles inspiration for his success.
Die-hard Beatles fans might have preferred Jack to buy a Rickenbacker guitar and Vox amplifier, but he sticks mostly with his Fender equipment, which has been rockers predominant equipment choice over the years. As Jack begins to get noticed and introduced to a Hollywood music agent, he wonders if he can continue “living a lie.”
Kate McKinnon (“SNL”) is hilariously horrible as super-agent Debra Hammer, “You’re skinny, but somehow round.” And, “You need to decide if you want to drink from the chalice of poison for fame and fortune. You’ll make a lot of money, of which I’ll take most of it.” Debra and the suits at corporate give Jack all the help he can stand, especially when they decide to change the title from “Hey Jude” to “Hey Dude.”
“Yesterday” is 116 minutes and rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language. This is not a cinematic marvel, just easy to watch with a chance to hear Beatles favorites put into a story by the successful team of Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis. Himesh Patel and Lily James are marvelous as they play it as a mildly humorous romcom.
It’s hokey and corny; as expected, but we couldn’t stop tapping our toes. It is enjoyable and entertaining, but maybe some would prefer to see this premise as a sci-fi. To take the concept to its ultimate conclusion, could you imagine a world without Milli Vanilli? Oh, the humanity!
Ron’s Rating: B+
Leigh’s Rating: B+