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Yesterday Movie Review

Yesterday (2019) movie poster Yesterday

US Theatrical Release: June 28, 2019 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Danny Boyle / Writers: Richard Curtis (story & screenplay); Jack Barth (story)

Cast: Himesh Patel (Jack Malik), Lily James (Ellie Appleton), Ed Sheeran (Himself), Kate McKinnon (Debra Hammer), Joel Fry (Rocky), Alexander Arnold (Gavin), LaMorne Morris (Head of Marketing), Harry Michell (Nick), Ellise Chappell (Lucy), Sophia Di Martino (Carol), Meera Syal (Sheila Malik), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Jed Malik), James Corden (Himself), Karma Sood (Young Jack), Jaimie Kollmer (Young Ellie)


Two of the more accomplished figures in modern British cinema -- Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, the Bridget Jones trilogy, and Notting Hill, and Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours,
28 Days Later, and Trainspotting -- come together for the first time on Yesterday. The film skews much more to the canon of Curtis than Boyle, elevating the scribe's long-displayed love of 1960s music with a feature-length celebration of the Beatles.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling London singer-songwriter who is about to give up on his dream after ten years of not making it. His lifelong platonic bestie Ellie (Lily James) continues to encourage him and book him the best gigs she can. But it's not enough to break through. While coming home from the Latitude Festival, where he plays a sparsely-attended fringe tent, Jack gets hit by a bus during a brief worldwide blackout. When he awakens, his beard has been shaven off and he's missing two front teeth. Oh yes, and he's the only who's ever heard of the Beatles. Blank stares and online research reveal to Jack that Coca Cola, cigarettes, and Oasis have also suddenly been erased from existence.

But after wowing Ellie and other friends with a performance of "Yesterday", Jack realizes that the large and previously well-known catalog of the iconic Liverpool band is now free for him to claim as his own.

In "Yesterday", Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) goes from a nobody to a world famous singer-songwriter on the basis of his unique knowledge of the otherwise unknown Beatles' catalogue.

There are a number of directions in which you could take that high concept premise. You could explore the fact that the most talented people do not always enjoy the most success. You could contemplate how a bygone era's hits might be received half a century later. Curtis chooses a different route that isn't terribly imaginative or remarkable. Jack's mass rollout of the Beatles' greatest hits catches the ear of Ed Sheeran (playing himself, as he did in the Curtis-scripted Bridget Jones's Baby), who asks Jack to be his opening act.

In this Beatles-less world, Sheeran is apparently the height of musical genius and his endorsement of Jack lands him a record deal at Universal, where he is now managed by a cold, humorless American executive (Kate McKinnon). Getting rich and famous amplifies the guilt that Jack harbors for succeeding entirely on his secret plagiarism of arguably the most beloved act in the history of pop music. It also doesn't ease his and Ellie's belabored, obvious move from friends to lovers.

A steel-hearted American manager (Kate McKinnon) tries to help Jack (Himesh Patel) cultivate an image befitting his fast-rising brand.

The wit that made Curtis' writing stand out on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean is hard to find here. One thing never in dispute in Curtis' script is the genius of the Beatles. It's an entirely uncontroversial stance for a Baby Boomer to take and it kind of homogenizes the film. It's not as if anyone has been itching for Himesh Patel to provide some new takes on "Let It Be", "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", "Hey Jude",
"The Long and Winding Road", and countless others. And Curtis seems to have exhausted every romantic comedy trope in his thirty years of predominantly working in the genre, which leaves us with a secondary love narrative that comes and goes without us particularly caring how it gets resolved.

Perhaps the funniest characterization here is Joel Fry as a roadie who is essentially a mild variation on Rhys Ifans' Spike from Notting Hill. By now, Curtis' taste for the corny and saccharine is well-documented, but he hasn't evolved and his brand of humor has grown stale. As for Boyle, he's been able to breathe life and energy into screenplays from a variety of genres. But there's only so much flair -- like three-dimensional location markers -- he can add here and it doesn't divert from the uninspired gags and spirited yet unnecessary Beatles covers that he has to work with.

The most bizarre scene of the movie and therefore the most creative has Jack tracking down a 78-year-old John Lennon, with the help of the only other two people who remember The Beatles. These ideas don't really pay off as intended, but at least they allow us a brief escape from the sitcomish nature of the rest of the film, which plays like a calculated version of Across the Universe without the artistry, original story, and cameos.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Rocketman Aladdin The Dead Don't Die Late Night
Across the Universe A Hard Day's Night Begin Again Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Lily James: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Baby Driver Cinderella (2015)
Written by Richard Curtis: Four Weddings and a Funeral Bridget Jones's Baby
Directed by Danny Boyle: Steve Jobs 127 Hours Sunshine

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Reviewed June 28, 2019.

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