Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The Beatles may be the most iconic musical group of all-time and their songs are loved by many, but what if they never existed? If some unknown musician debuted those songs in 2019, would they become instant classics, bringing instant fame and fortune to said musician? The new film Yesterday assumes that the answer to that question would be yes, but poses plenty of other moral questions that would come up when one man finds himself to be the only person on Earth who remembers the works of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Jack Malik is a struggling singer/songwriter who one day decides that he is going to give up on his dream. That night, an inexplicable power outage occurs across the globe and while the lights are out, Jack is struck by a bus. After waking and recovering from a coma, Jack is shocked to discover that no one else in the world seems to remember the existence of The Beatles or any of their music. After struggling with the morality of his current predicament for a hot minute, Jack begins performing the band’s many hits. This leads to a recording deal, which leads to a gig opening for Ed Sheeran, which in turn leads to deal with a major label and the fame and fortune he has always desired.
While his musical career is skyrocketing, though, Jack’s personal life is taking a hit. His childhood friend and manager Ellie, with whom he has always had a special bond, has expressed her love for him, and while he wants to reciprocate, his newfound success is pulling him away. He also appears to be being followed by a couple who might be on to his morally questionable road to success.
Yesterday is not a mystery. It cares not about explaining why the power went out all around the world or why Jack is suddenly in a timeline in which The Beatles never seem to have existed. This movie is more about asking “what if?” than it is “how?” or why?”.
Screenwriter Richard Curtis has used this technique before in the endlessly charming 2013 film About Time, about a young man who learns that the men in his family, including him, have the ability to travel through time. That movie cares not about explaining why he can time travel, but is instead concerned with what someone would do with that kind of power. The same thing is true about Yesterday, which poses the questions “Would it be right to earn fame and fortune from the work of others if no one will ever know?” and “Would you owe a responsibility to the world to keep the art alive in a world where it has been forgotten?”
The movie guides us through an exploration of these themes in thoroughly entertaining fashion. Not only is it fun just to hear classic Beatles tunes blasting through cinema speakers, but Yesterday features a charming cast. Lily James and newcomer Himesh Patel are charming in the romantic leads as Ellie and Jack. Their chemistry helps to overcome the fact that the movie gives us little about how they came to be so close, outside of the fact that she once heard him sing at a youth talent show. Joel Fry is also noteworthy in the comic relief role of Jack’s friend/roadie Rocky. And then there is Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon, who storms in as if she’s not just in another movie, but on another planet entirely.
Although Richard Curtis has had his own success as a director with films like Love Actually and the aforementioned About Time, the reins of Yesterday are handed over to Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting veteran Danny Boyle. The team-up has mixed results as Boyle’s style overpowers the story at some points. A scene of two people walking, for instance, is first shown at an incredibly Dutch angle from the left, then cuts to an equally extreme Dutch angle on the right. At other times, rapid zooms or dolly-ins are used when it appears to be completely unnecessary.
Yesterday may not hit all the right notes at all times, but it does take its clever premise and explore it in a way that is both thought-provoking and enjoyable, also delivering a few surprises along the way. It is enjoyable enough, in fact, that while watching it, all your troubles might seem very far away indeed.
Yesterday opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.