The Beatles, the worldwide phenomenon from Liverpool. Breaking into popularity in the 1960’s, their music has stood the test of time. But what would the world be like if the Beatles’ music never existed? Well, that’s what Director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis answers that question in the movie Yesterday.
It follows Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling singer-songwriter from Lowestoft. After a disappointing gig that makes him quit music, he gets hit by a bus following a global blackout. When he gets a new guitar, he tests it out with the song “Yesterday” by The Beatles. It is here, that Jack learns that the Fab Four somehow don’t exist in the world. After looking into this revelation, he begins passing the songs off as his. With the help of manager Ellie (Lily James) and local music producer, Gavin (Alexander Arnold), Jack becomes known a local star. Ed Sheeran (played by the pop star himself) subsequently asks him to open for him at a Moscow show. This gets the attention of Sheeran’s agent, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). In a matter of days, Jack is off to LA with his friend and roadie Rocky (Joel Fry) and becomes an overnight sensation. But the burdens of fame overwhelm Jack and he tries to choose between the music business or his love for Ellie.
Each of the characters are portrayed brilliantly by their respective actors. Himesh Patel’s performance as Jack shows the heart he has for not only the Beatles’ music, but his own original music. His chemistry with the rest of the cast is natural; the feelings his character has with Lily James show the feelings they have for each other and how symbiotic their dynamic, romantically and professionally, is. As comic reliefs go, Joel Fry’s presence shows how absurd Jack’s situation is, without consuming too much of the scenes. While the heartless agent is a fundamental part of every rise to fame story, a character’s only as good as their actor, and Kate McKinnon acts like she’s having fun in the role. She plays up the greed and obsession with Jack’s popularity, while not being played too much like a caricature.
The CG effects in the movie were a mixed bag. On one hand, the CGI enhanced a couple of the scenes, like helping to illustrate how social media plays an influential role in Jack’s growing popularity. They also show the immersion Jack has when visiting Liverpool to better write songs like “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” On the other hand, there are moments where it felt distracting. Specifically, how it would show a flashy subtitle every time Jack went to a new place. The subtitle is also irrelevant, when the name of the place is already shown when introduced.
On the surface, Yesterday seems to follow the classic arc of the artist finding success and overcoming the challenges that come with show business. However, the movie’s message is less about the downsides of the music industry and more the power of the Beatles’ work. Jack’s ambition is centered entirely on sharing the work of John, Paul, George, and Ringo to the rest of the world. This builds up to a third act that, without spoiling the movie, speaks to not only the pathos of the music, but also has a message that appeals to anyone with an artistic aspiration.
In many respects, the story follows the familiar beats of the star rising to fame and learns that the popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but molds it in how it works in the present day. The changes made give Yesterday a distinct voice among the standard format. Complimented by a solid cast and editing, this is definitely a movie you should see today.