From what I remember, I was about 9 or 10 when my dad introduced me to the Beatles, easily his favorite band (though I think Bread was a close second). The first song I remember hearing was “I want to hold your hand”, and then my world of music was never the same again. This is what would start me out on listening to other “oldies” of the 1960s and 1970s. Even those who don’t like The Beatles cannot deny the influence they have had on music, putting them right on the list of names like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Elvis. The love of the fab four from Liverpool is clearly evident in the movie Yesterday, but its brain is not.
The premise is well known by now: Struggling solo musician Jack Malik (relative newcomer Himesh Patel), once a former teacher and now working part time at a local factory, is about to hang up his guitar strings for good, having only his manager/life long friend Ellie (the always charming Lily James) as his main supporter (even his parents seem hesitant on his musical career). All this changes one night when, as he is riding his bike home, there is a mysterious power surge all over the world that lasts for twelve seconds. This also happens right at the time Jack is hit by a bus, knocking out his two front teeth in the process.
Eventually, he realizes he is the only person left alive who remembers any songs from John, Paul, George, and Ringo (his google searches lead him straight to Beetles and Pope John Paul). While he has some struggle remembering certain song lyrics (mainly Eleanor Rigby), he finds he can become famous by passing the songs as his own (and does a good job of singing them in the process). He becomes so well respected that Ed Sheeran (as himself) says that Jack is Mozart and he is Salieri.
One of the things of the film I was not expecting was that the Beatles would not be the only thing that people have forgotten about. I won’t spoil what they are, but they seemed really superfluous to the film other than some laughs and a product placement (one of the absences would be even more impactful than the absence of The Beatles, without question). Another flaw is the character of Debra, Jack’s new manager. She is played by Kate McKinnon. This is a character that felt totally out of place and even somewhat annoying, going for total schtick. This is in no way a negative take on McKinnon (who has done wonderful work on SNL.)
Parents, the movie is a very soft PG-13. There is swearing, but very little violence (just the aftermath of Jack’s accident). There is also mild suggestive material, but it does not get past lots of kissing. I would think that mature middle schoolers and up are okay.
One thing the movie does get right is the zeal that Jack has for the Beatles (such as his reaction to Ed trying to change the name of “Hey Jude”). Sure, he can use the money, but at the core of it all he is trying to make sure people here songs from the most influential band of all time. This got me thinking: What if I got up one day, and somehow found myself to be the only person alive who has heard about Jesus Christ? While I would assume my first reaction would be utter shock, how would I get his message across? How much fervor would be behind it? Even now, when not alone in knowing the name of Christ (who the Beatles did say they were more popular than at one point), how much joy do I have in proclaiming his name to all?
Yesterday was written by Richard Curtis (who wrote 2003’s wonderful all star cast rom-com Love Actually), and was directed by the very talented Danny Boyle (who won an Oscar for his 2008 capraesque like Slumdog Millionaire). Their work on Yesterday, though well intended, falls short of their previous works, as well as other films revolving around The Beatles such as the underrated Across the Universe (2007) and (perhaps the best of the fab four flicks) A Hard Day’s Night (1964). As a relatively loyal fan of the band, I will stick with those films and the original tracks.
Ob-La-di, Ob-La-Da. Life still goes on.