Every now and then you see a trailer for a movie that just seems so odd that you simultaneously wonder how it got greenlit and also how it’s never been done before. This was definitely the case when I saw the trailer for Danny Boyle’s newest film, Yesterday. In that trailer, we are invited to enter a world where the Beatles suddenly ceased to exist and nobody – except one man – could remember them. It’s such a delightfully strange premise that there were really only two ways the film could end up: a hot mess or a delightful surprise. Thankfully, it’s 100% the latter and it’s such a fun movie carried by a very charismatic lead and some solid filmmaking. (Mild spoilers follow.)
Yesterday (written by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle)
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed… and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed.
Yesterday definitely is one of those movies that could have ended up being a trainwreck. It could have gotten so caught up in its premise that it forgot to have any heart. Or it could have been one of those films that had a really interesting premise but never did anything interesting with it. Thankfully, it’s neither of those things. The film doesn’t remotely get bogged down by its premise – in fact, if anything, you kind of wish it would explore it just a little bit more than it does. But, alas, it’s not a science fiction movie, so it isn’t really concerned with explaining what’s caused the universe to split into an alternate one where the Beatles (and a variety of other things) have ceased to exist. And that’s okay because what it does focus on is Jack’s journey through this universe as the one person who can remember things the way they used to be. How do you cope when the biggest band that ever existed suddenly doesn’t exist anymore? Well, if you’re Jack, you ensure their songs exist in some form. His journey is the one we follow and getting to see his self-confidence grow is definitely a joy in the movie – even if the reasons for his increased popularity aren’t entirely up to him. Himesh Patel is captivating as hell in this role and it’s so easy to root for him to succeed in his goals.
I was not expecting to be surprised by this movie’s plotline. After seeing the trailer, you might expect this movie to play out much the same as any other film about an artist who ends up stealing the work of other artists, but it doesn’t really play out that way. You expect him to get super famous and to have no desire to come clean about the lies he’s told and for some outside force to end up forcing him into confessing the truth of where his songs have come from. But the movie doesn’t really play out like that at all. There are moments where it feels like it might swerve into that kind of territory, but it quickly moves itself back into a more interesting and unique lane. Of course, it does end up getting revealed that Jack didn’t write the songs, but the way it happens is genuinely surprising and it doesn’t happen at all in the way the trailer suggests it might. In fact, the last act of this movie really surprised me in how it dealt with tying up the threads of the story. There’s one scene, in particular, that might come across as being done in bad taste to some people, but for me, it really worked (you’ll know it when you see it) and it perfectly encapsulates Jack’s journey throughout the film. The film’s ending is one that is surprising but feels dramatically earned within the context of the film – and that’s a rarity for this kind of movie. Usually, you get something that’s predictable and/or feels rushed. This movie doesn’t go that route and it’s better for it. Some might be disappointed that certain aspects don’t get wrapped up/fixed by the end of the movie, but I really liked how it all played out.
More than anything else, though, Yesterday is a love story. That’s easily predictable based on the trailers and any knowledge of these kinds of movies, but that doesn’t really dampen the effectiveness of the story. Lily James and Himesh Patel have a wonderful amount of chemistry together and their love story ends up being one of those stories where both of them like each other but they both waited too long to do anything about it and now it’s biting them in the rear end. Danny Boyle is very good at crafting love stories that don’t feel overly romantic. This movie isn’t a rom-com, even if the trailers might make it seem that way. It’s definitely comedic and there’s definitely a romance, but it doesn’t really fall into any of the other tropes that define most rom-coms. Instead, you get two three-dimensional characters who happen to be in love with each other and end up being very bad at showing it. Their story is one that could be predicted from the beginning of the movie, but it’s still a whole lot of fun seeing them finally get together and I appreciate how realistic both Patel and James played their characters. You really get the sense that these two people have shared a long and sometimes complicated past together and you absolutely understand why they have the complicated feelings about each other that they do. A movie like this one couldn’t work without leads as strong as these two are.
Not only is Yesterday a film with a very good plot and some solid romance, but it is also a surprisingly funny film. Its humor ends up being a mixture of the (understandable) culture shock that comes from Jack finding himself in a world where various things he remembers have ceased existing overnight and people keep looking at him funny when he references something that’s changed. Nearly every time Jack makes mention of something that doesn’t exist in this new reality, the film quickly cuts to a shot of him Googling that thing and that visual gag never ceases to be funny, mostly because the movie doesn’t overuse it. Additionally, much of the supporting cast plays a comedic role – most notably Kate McKinnon as Debra, the US-based manager of Jack and Ed Sheeran (who plays himself in the film). McKinnon is utterly hilarious in this movie, totally stealing every single scene she’s in. She perfectly encapsulates exactly what you think of when you imagine a sleazy manager only looking to make as much money as humanly possible and her despicableness is played to great comedic effect. The rest of the cast ends up being very good, particularly the actors who play Jack and Ellie’s friends. Everyone in this movie is perfectly cast and it’s utterly joyous to watch them all perform with each other.
All in all, Yesterday is an utter delight of a film. It features an utterly captivating, star-making performance from Himesh Patel, a very well-written story, some realistic romantic plotlines, and a whole lot of wonderful music. David Boyle’s directing style probably isn’t for everyone – he often features an excess of dutch angles and other strange visual choices – but I found this film to be a visual feast. There is always something happening on screen that’s interesting, whether it’s a performance or some kind of on-screen-graphic that claims your attention. Boyle and Curtis (the screenwriter) have managed to craft a musical fantasy that feels both otherworldly and extremely grounded. The characters are immediately believable, which makes it a whole lot easier to believe in, and go with, the crazy premise of the film. While I’d have enjoyed the film if there were more actual musical numbers, I think they included just the right amount of music to please those who wanted this movie to be a musical and those who didn’t. Yesterday is one of those movies that you watch that leaves you feeling very happy at its conclusion and it’s a film I can easily see myself rewatching when I want something to cheer me up. It’s utter, delightful fun.
4.5 out of 5 wands