Yesterday is a trifle of a movie: a light, sugary sweet confection that is delicious and satisfying. It’s kind of like an early era Beatles song: bouncy, energetic, and consumed by puppy dog love. Sure, The Beatles also wrote “Don’t Let Me Down” and “A Day in the Life,” but Yesterday — written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle — isn’t concerned with the entirety of the Fab Four’s discography, just the silly love songs they need to tell their story. And to tell it well.
The premise is as preposterous as it is magical: Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer/songwriter living in Suffolk, or, at least he could be a struggling singer/songwriter if more than three friends — one of which is his best friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James) — ever came to one of his shows. Ready to hang up the six strings for good, Jack happens to be riding his bike when electricity all over the world suddenly fails, taking out the lights and causing a bus to run a stop and send Jack careening to the ground.
The accident takes Jack out of commission for a couple of days, and cost him a couple of chompers, but it also manages to wipe a few other things from existence, notably The Beatles — the music, not the men. But not in Jack’s mind. For some unexplained reason, Jack can recall most of their catalog. Quite the predicament for a down-on-his-luck musician: In his head and in his hands are some of the greatest songs ever written. Songs no one has ever heard before. What’s a struggling musician to do?
Only a fool would look that gift horse in the mouth, and Jack is no fool. It’s also fortuitous that Jack, a rather good singer, should be the one who remembers “Yesterday,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Help!” — the movie excellently hangs a lantern on that one.
Yesterday doesn’t play out the way you might expect. At its heart, Yesterday is a standard-issue romantic-comedy with Ellie as the perfect girl Jack just can’t see. The fact that James and Patel bring just enough chemistry to the table makes the movie work.
But, what makes Yesterday stand out are all the little moments, observations, and assumptions Curtis’ script makes about fame, celebrity culture, the state of the recording industry, the feverish need to idolize a singular genius, and how conversations about what is the greatest require some amount of consensus.
“It’s ‘Yesterday,’” Jack argues with a group who has never heard the iconic song. “It’s one of the greatest songs ever written.”
“It’s not Coldplay,” one quips. “It’s not ‘Fix You.’”
Yesterday ain’t no “Yesterday,” but it’s a hell of a lot better than “Fix You.”