Movie review: 'Yesterday' imagines a world without the Beatles

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jul 24 2019 03:39 PM

Himesh Patel stars in 'Yesterday'

Jack Malik was a frustrated musician who had just accepted that he was not going anywhere with his singing career. This was despite the loyal support of his best friend and manager Ellie Appleton, who was always optimistic for him. One fateful night, there was a momentary worldwide electrical blackout, and Jack was hit by a bus. 

When he recovered from his accident, he realized that apparently the whole world never knew about the Beatles nor their music, except for him. When Jack restarts his music career performing Beatles songs, he eventually generated a frenzy in the pop music world where people believed that Jack was churning out all this incredible music by himself. 

"Yesterday" follows the footsteps of recent musical films featuring the discography of iconic musicians like "Bohemian Rhapsody" for Freddie Mercury and Queen and "Rocketman" for Elton John. However, the main difference was the Beatles were not in the consciousness of the world of "Yesterday" at all, well at least except for Jack Malik. We hear actor Himesh Patel singing of all those classic songs. While Patel's singing voice had a rather unpolished quality, the songs indeed had that lyrical quality about them we love.

Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv

I felt like singing along to every Beatles hit I heard Jack sing. "Yesterday" was sung in a picnic after he was discharged from the hospital. "Let It Be" was sung in their living room in front of his disinterested parents. "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" was sung during his first recording gig and Ellie sang backup. "In My Life" was sung on his first TV show appearance. "The Long and Winding Road" was sung when a musical superstar challenged him to an "impromtu" sing-off. "Help" was sung during his launching concert on a building rooftop. "All You Need is Love" was sung as a guest artist at a fully packed Wembley Stadium concert. 

At the heart of this interesting sci-fi-ish premise (where not only the Beatles, but also cigarettes, Coca Cola and Harry Potter were lost from human history) and all the wry dry British humor is the relationship between Jack and Ellie. With Ellie played by the beautiful Lily James, any viewer would wonder why this loser Jack never felt any romantic feelings for her at all until it was too late. James literally lit up the screen whenever she was in it. That scene with her radiant face on the big screen at Wembley was simply moving.

I enjoyed all the little references about the Beatles throughout the film. It was funny that titles of actual hit Beatles albums like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and song lyrics like "Hey Jude" were being ridiculed for being corny. The "Abbey Road" album cover was referenced when the feet of Paul McCartney was shown without footwear. I enjoyed Jack's side trip to Liverpool to visit places that inspired hits like "Penny Lane" and "Eleanor Rigby." I immediately caught the dig that Oasis also did not exist because their main influence was the Beatles. I'm sure there would be more, maybe even Ed Sheeran himself. 

Writer Richard Curtis (of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill," "Bridget Jones's Diary," and "Love Actually" fame) and director Danny Boyle (of "Trainspotting," "The Beach," "28 Days Later," and "Slumdog Millionaire" fame) whipped up a charming little flick rife with wry British humor. Being a big fan of Beatles music and their lore, I enjoyed watching every moment of this jukebox film. The ethical issues about plagiarism could be very disturbing, but Boyle gave it a light touch which served the film well. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."