Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a failing singer-songwriter, with dreams of making it big, but who has never managed to snag a gig with an audience of more than half a dozen people. When a solar flare knocks out the world’s electricity for twelve seconds, Jack is simultaneously hit by a bus and thrown into an alternate timeline where several world-wide phenomenon have never existed. Jack is the only person on earth who remembers the Beatles. Or is he? As Jack starts recording Beatles’ songs as his own, he struggles to enjoy the sudden fame and fortune his success has wrought, as he worries that others will uncover his secret – that he’s not the genius behind some of the world’s greatest hits.
Yesterday is directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later), and written by Jack Barth (Attack the Block, The Fabulous Picture Show) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral). The film also stars Lily James as Ellie, Jack’s childhood friend and manager, Kate McKinnon as Debra, a money-hungry music producer, and Ed Sheeran as himself (or some egotistical celebrity alter ego).
Yesterday plays like a saccharine dream, with some trippy psychological elements, mimicking Jack’s unravelling with some interesting cinematic techniques and camera angles. The film cautiously ventures beyond the confines of a basic rom-com to incorporate a little taste of whimsy, and it’s easy to get swept up in Yesterday’s wholesome sentimentality and feel-good groovin’ vibes. In fact, the Beatles’ sentimentality that the film taps into is the driving force that keeps it from being another benign drama.
The witty dialogue and relatable characters piece together a surprisingly funny, well-written comedy. The film is a playful thought experiment that asks a curious ‘what if?’ and, honestly, it’s a pretty believable rendition. Jack’s success is not immediate, and there’s a subtle critique that the songs are out-of-place in the modern era of music. Jack’s scramble to recreate classic Beatles’ songs is unexpectedly human: how many songs could you remember both music and lyrics for? Jack soon finds he cannot whole-heartedly sing about places he’s never been, and fake the meaning behind someone else’s songs. Does anyone have any idea what the Beatles’ songs were about, besides the Beatles themselves who were sky-high on some 60’s good times?
Patel does some incredibly moving covers of the songs, managing to capture the passion beneath the music. The best of the Beatles’ songs have been squeezed into line with Jack’s story, and there’s something ironically wonderful about watching an overwhelmed Jack scream ‘Help me!’ to a crowd of thousands. Spotify searches for the Beatles is undoubtedly going to spike in the months after release.
All Jack wants to do is share the greatest music with a world that has no idea it’s missing out. Yesterday surprises in the best way, leaving a bittersweet aftertaste as the credits rolls.
I rate this film 9/10.
Yesterday is in cinemas from June 27th.