Danny Boyle’s Yesterday is right on pitch with a feel-good, heartwarming tribute to the Beatles.
For 12 seconds, the world lost power and beaten down musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) lost his two front teeth. And the world lost any recollection of The Beatles. Malik finds himself in the enviable position of bringing their music to the world for the first time ever, but he’s plagued by guilt for plagiarizing the work of people who, for all intents and purposes, never existed. He embarks on a meteoric rise to stardom, propelled by Ed Sheeran and his new manager (Kate McKinnon), battling feelings for his former manager and best friend Ellie (Lily James). Beatlemania — or Malik Mania, rather — sweeps the world and he instantly becomes an amazing singing sensation.
Of course, this brings comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born. Patel sings beautifully and earnestly throughout Yesterday, which automatically places it firmly above the lip-syncing of Rami Malek, though the meteoric rise to fame and fortune are similar in all three films. However, while both Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born also chart the deep, dark downside of such success, Yesterday acknowledges it but does not take us down the depressing black hole that can come with that fame. In that way, it feels more at home alongside That Thing You Do (1996, written and directed by Tom Hanks). Yesterday remains thoroughly funny and heartwarming throughout, with perfect comedic timing on the part of the writing as well as the cast. Just when I thought we were going into predictable downturn territory, the film course corrected, leaving us even more elated than before. This should be no surprise, as Richard Curtis himself is responsible for a significant number of brilliant, feel-good British comedies in the last quarter century (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary). And it doesn’t hurt that Danny Boyle is a masterful director.
I have very few criticisms of Yesterday. Kate McKinnon is often off-putting (which is a shock to say, as she’s usually just about amazing). I’ll also echo my fellow RSC critic M.N. Miller‘s critique of the film that the tension stemming from the love story between Jack and Ellie seems a bit forced, but that’s about it. Yesterday works on every level for me. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for two days straight.
Yesterday is a tour de force, an epic love song to the Beatles and their impact on our world — and to the power of songwriting and music as a whole. From the start, there’s an objective thesis to this film: the Beatles are the greatest musicians to ever live. As Sarah Lancashire (from Happy Valley) tells us in her brief cameo: the world is better with the Beatles than without. And whether you agree or disagree going into this, Yesterday makes a pretty good case for it. And if we take a step back from just the Beatles (though, why would you?), the film strongly argues that music brings people together. It speaks to us all, just as stories do. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, music resonates in our hearts, and the Beatles tapped into that, and Yesterday reminds us all why we fell in love with that long-haired rock band from Liverpool in the first place.