Movie Review: Yesterday
From Bohemian Rhapsody to Rocketman, and now Yesterday, Hollywood seems to be continuing to jump on the bandwagon of transforming music icons into blockbuster films. However, where Bohemian Rhapsody painted a biographical story of Freddie Mercury and Rocketman was presented as a glamorous and fantastical musical, Yesterday takes on the legacy of the music of The Beatles rather than the lives of the members themselves.
Through Himesh Patel’s character Jack Malik, a humorously pathetic singer-songwriter in modern-day England, the film explores time and place in reference to music. In this case, it is the “what if” of The Beatles songs being released in the modern age. On the brink of giving up on his dead-end music career, Jack is conveniently hit by a bus at the exact moment of a miraculous global power outage. With his manager and longtime friend Ellie by his side, played by Lily James, Jack realizes small changes in the world around him.
Shockingly, no one understands his subtle Beatles references, and Jack is placed in a tough position considering his failed attempt at musical stardom. He is reminded of his own career-defining middle school rendition of Wonderwall. Thus, after a few frantic Google searches with no luck in uncovering the mystery of the disappearance of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, he thinks to himself, do I do the unthinkable? Yes, he will.
What spirals from here involves a mishmash of scenes chronicling Jack’s rise to stardom, which makes the film difficult to judge in a concrete sense of whether it is wholly “good” or “bad.” It depends on the audience member, considering that The Beatles, as an iconic music group carry a wide range of fans from the casual listener to the hard-core historian.
Yesterday hits home in terms of its relatability to the main character, Jack Malik, who is facing a sort of quarter-life crisis. He still lives with his parents, continues to be the butt of jokes with his friends and is oblivious to Ellie’s obvious love for him. We can all relate to his fear of becoming a complete failure, in his own eyes and in the eyes of his parents. For instance, in one scene, Jack is continuously interrupted by his parents during a home rendition of “Let it Be”, poking fun at Jack’s new perceived cockiness with his songwriting abilities and the known genius of the original song itself.
The audience is right with him as he struggles to remember the specific words to songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane” and finds humor in the impossibility of Ed Sheeran showing up at his parents’ house in the middle of the night. Throw in Kate McKinnon as the stereotypical deranged Californian manager and an unreliable sidekick in his friend Rocky, and there is a steady stream of witty British humor and irony in the continual distrust of certain classic Beatles lyrics and album names.
Coming from Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, some may interpret the film as a presentation of solely the mainstream image of The Beatles rather than an exploration of the true impact of their songs and lyrics. Some may have hoped for a more profound message in reference to the musicians themselves, rather than the suggestion that just any Brit at any time could ever replace the Fab Four. Especially since the overarching joke becomes the band’s massive fame itself which is then used as a superficial catalyst to further drive the love story between Ellie and Jack.
Yet, it is done endearingly.
Yesterday displays a certain level of appreciation for the iconic music and demonstrates how The Beatles play a larger part in inspiring the world beyond their own time. The film managed to maintain a lighthearted tone and capture a bit of the magic of The Beatles, all while making us think about the big “what if’s”. What if John Lennon was still alive? Would music be the same without The Beatles? Would their songs survive in today’s world of social media? And, above all, what does music inspire in us?
Albeit not a mind-bending masterpiece, Yesterday deserves a solid thumbs up for its youthful fun, humor, pop culture infusion, and sing-along quality. It becomes a great movie to watch with friends and family, and all levels of fans of The Beatles and British culture. In the end, it did quite fittingly, come together to show that “A world without The Beatles is a world that is infinitely worse.”