I love The Beatles. In fact, my record collection (to quote Twin Cities label legend Peter Jesperson) begins with The Beatles and then goes from A-Z. During a company outing I struck up the subject by asking my coworkers: “You guys like The Beatles?” Their answer: “Who doesn’t like The Beatles?” And indeed, with Danny Boyle’s latest film, this assumption is rendered universal which is one of the key factors in making the premise of “Yesterday” work its magic.
Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a fledgling singer-songwriter, who despite his dedication and commitment to his trade just doesn’t seem to have the ‘thing’ to make it in the music industry. Gig after gig, from coffee house to festival circuit, no one seems to want to give his songs a listen. All except for one: local schoolteacher Elle (Lily James), his manager and childhood friend. She believes in his songs and most significantly, in him. After a failed gig at a music festival, Jack decides to hang it up. While riding home on his bike, suddenly the world changes. Inexplicably, in this world The Beatles never existed. No one remembers them, except for Malik of course. Armed with these songs, he is now in quite a predicament – or opportunity: What to do? A catalog full of Lennon-McCartney classics to be owned for the taking; to share them to the world or to pass them off as his own?
Patel is excellent as Malik, portraying him with sincerity and humor. Patel is also convincing as a musician, playing and singing with his own voice which is quite good given the awesome repertoire he’s been given. Lily James is simply radiant as Elle and acts as a great foil to Malik once his Hero’s Journey takes an uncontrollable turn. She is the down-to-earth element in his skyward trajectory to fame and fortune. But will he realize it in time before it’s too late?
The other stars in Yesterday are obviously the songs of Lennon-McCartney. The film assumes that we are familiar with them enough to get the in-jokes and album references. Being a Beatles fan myself, they are overly obvious and simplistic but quite satisfying. Admittedly, it’s a fantasy that friends and I have imagined in our younger years as we obsessed about The Beatles and endlessly played them on our aging turntables.
It’s a simple story, a fantasy/romantic comedy that asks us to escape to another dimension where The Beatles never existed. But I can’t help but think how the world would be so much different without The Beatles. Steve Jobs named his company Apple after the group’s record label. Would Ed Sheeran, who has a bit role playing himself, even exist in such a world? Part of the Rolling Stones success was its friendly rivalry with the fab four, yet they exist in this world as if it didn’t matter. Would the masses really have taken to the songs so quickly in such an environment, even with the help of social media technologies like YouTube and twitter? In my view, The Beatles were that influential to the state of contemporary culture since the 60s. Musicologists would probably correct me for these statement but the bottom line is that Yesterday asks us not to think too hard about those details but just to climb on board and enjoy the ride.
Filled with humor, amusing pop culture references, great songs and strong performances from the two leads, Yesterday is highly entertaining as long as we don’t think about it to too much. And by the way, part of The Beatles charm was their happy-go-lucky and not-so-serious nature (at least in the beginning). Wouldn’t it be nice to live in the surreal, joyous world that is portrayed by Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night? With Yesterday, Danny Boyle gives us 2 hours to forget the world’s troubles and ask ourselves “What if?”
So did you get to see YESTERDAY? Let us know what you think!