Yesterday (2019). Film review of the whimsical comedy drama

Himesh Patel and Lily James in Yesterday (2019)


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Jason Day, of Yesterday, the whimsical comedy-drama about a struggling musician who is the only person who has ever heard music by The Beatles. Starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.

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Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a musician with a small amount of talent who has eked out a living singing in pubs and other small-scale gigs, supported by his adoring friends including the sweet Ellie (Lily James).

One day, there is a global electrical blackout and the people of the world slow down for 12 seconds. Likewise Jack…and the driver of an oncoming bus.

After Jack wakes in hospital, minus two teeth and no recollection of how he got there, he starts singing Yesterday by The Beatles and is startled to find that none of his friends know the tune or the band.

An internet search reveals no history of them, but his friends want more and gradually he starts to build a career on the work of a band who only exist in his head.

But how will Jack cope with suddenly being thrust to the firmament of pop super stardom? And will he finally tell Ellie he loves her?

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Image of the poster for the film Yesterday starring Himesh Patel.

The world is full of miracles. Like Benedict Cumberbatch becoming a sex symbol.

Lily James as Ellie in Yesterday (2019). Script by Richard Curtis.

It’s been a while since Richard Curtis – one of the geniuses behind my favourite comedy, Blackadder – has penned a decently funny line.

On the big screen, he has directed, written (or, unfortunately, both) a series of unfunny disasters (The Ship That Rocked/Pirate Radio, About Time) and the guiltily enjoyable The Vicar of Dibley on TV finished as a full-time series more than 20 years ago (and that was essentially a one-joke sitcom. The ‘joke’ being that Dawn French loves to eat food).

So that quoted line above, reminiscent of the most glib observational comment from his comedy writing heyday, was a welcome sound in my ears.

Are all his troubles far away? Jack (Himesh Patel) rocks out in Yesterday (2019). Image: Universal International Pictures.

There are, in fairness, a few of them peppered throughout Yesterday and he clearly enjoyed fleshing out the monstrous Califor-ninny, PR nightmare Debra Hammer played with ridiculously entertaining relish by Kate McKinnon.

It isn’t the greatest script.

Its cute, ‘alternate reality’ idea has some welcome additives. For not only have The Beatles vanished from collective human memory, but so have Coca Cola – only Pepsi is available, folks – cigarettes and Harry Potter (I’m not too upset about that).

Curtis does well to not dwell on the logic and physics of what happens/could happen years down the line if people as epochal and influential as The Beatles never existed (by extension, leading popular musicians like Ed Sheeran who features as a supporting actor here, might not have either) or too much on the common sense (why hasn’t Jack had a go at the X Factor? It’s an easier way for those with middling talent to get decent exposure rather than wait for a global, astronomical happening), wisely staying with the sweet wish-fulfillment angle.

Quite what Curtis was thinking when he wrote Ed Sheeran saying of Jack, the new songwriting wunderkind in town, “I was always told someone would come along who is better than me”, is the most interesting part of his script.

Perhaps this is in reference of Jack and Ed being seen as the new, music messiah, how their song will help define the current generation and perhaps shape later ones as well as the clamouring of their acolytes and sycophants for their favour and to earn big bucks from them.

It could be a sly satirical dig on the part of the writer at the over-blown status Sheeran has on the world stage. OK, I’m not a fan or any type of music, but is any music writer that important?

I hope to God Sheeran only said it because it was written down and he was paid to, because a spasm went through me when I heard it. “How arrogant, how egotistical, how egregious!”

Strawberry Fields Forever…but is the grass always greener? Jack and Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran) are music frenemies in Yesterday (2019). Image: Universal International Pictures.

An interesting thing to note about this story is that Jack beats himself up about being a rip-off merchant, but technically he isn’t. His memory is patchy so he has to painstakingly piece together The Beatles oeuvre from scattered memories, writing fragments of lyrics down on Post-It notes that litter his bedroom wall. In the recording studio and when singing, he tweaks things, so he actually goes through a ‘re-creative’ process of his own, as painful as penning music from scratch.

Toward the end of the movie, he is confronted by the only other people in the world who also remember the legendary 60’s band (Sarah Lancashire and Justin Edwards), people he thinks are hounding him to confess and ruin him. Instead, they encourage him to keep the flame of The Beatles’ creativity alive, prompting him with toy yellow submarines. Again, we see the hints of Jack’s messianic status, they are his slightly odd disciples who we last see dancing crazily in Sgt. Pepper uniforms.

Patel plays pretty much the same nebulous, nerdy, unlucky in love chap he did to death in Eastenders so the pairing with the ever appealing, pretty James never convinces for a second.

Her character blames him for never being honest and making a move on her, but she is a forthright and independent young woman who has never declared her love with him. It’s a very dishonest and annoying set-up so thank heavens for the support cast.

She isn’t really his Eleanor Rigby. The central romance never quite convinces in Yesterday (2019). Image: Universal International Pictures.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a music fan (image over sound for me, all the way) so the continued public fascination with The Beatles has always intrigued me but this film, with its halcyon, adoring love of their tunes at least got me thinking how impressive, emotional and lasting that music is. Despite the longueurs – this could have been a lot shorter – and not being the funniest comedy around, it is smart and engaging and worth seeing.

For more, see the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: Danny Boyle. 1hr 56mins/116mins. Etalon Film/Working Title Films/Universal. (12a)

Producers: Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson.
Writer: Richard Curtis.
Camera: Christopher Ross.
Music: Daniel Pemberton.
Sets: Patrick Rolfe.

Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia D Martino, Ellise Chappell, Mera Syal, Vincent Franklin, Joel Fry, Michael Kiwanuka, Karma Sood, Gus Brown, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ed Sheeran.


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