Yesterday Review: Standout performances from Patel and James save Yesterday from being squandered by a messy premise
Frankly, I don’t many people would dispute or judge me saying that The Beatles is easily one of, if not the most, influential band of all-time. From music to ideas to just the daily life of the average person, The Beatles have made an extraordinary impact that few other things have. So, they more than deserve a film that embodies the impact of their music and how four men that formed a band in Liverpool back in 1960 captured the heart of the world, right? Well, there actually was a film back in 2007, called Across the Universe, that utilized the songs of The Beatles to create psychedelic musical numbers that were the backdrop to a story of love and the Vietnam War. While Across the Universe has been the most recent adaptation of anything Beatles related, acclaimed director Danny Boyle has just released his own feel-good film, Yesterday, that begs a simple question: What if The Beatles never existed?
Just focusing on that question alone actually boasts a solid premise given the amount of the band’s amount of influence. What would the world be like? What would the music industry be like? What wouldn’t exist because of it? What would the members be like, especially for those that aren’t with us like John Lennon and George Harrison? What would even happen if only one person, who thankfully is a musician, could remember the iconic band and all their work? What would he do with that knowledge?
Well, that’s all what Jack Mallick (Himesh Patel) has to figure after a worldwide blackout makes The Beatles and all of their songs become basically erased from existence. Realizing that his dull life as a musician can now change after he begins to sing their songs and pass them off as his own. However, even though he garners the fame and fortune he’s so desperately craved, he questions whether claiming fame and fortune are a respectful way to bring their music back into the world and if it’s worth losing a chance at love with his longtime friend Ellie (Lily James). Now with all this knowledge and power in his hands, Jack must question his own life choices while reflecting what The Beatles really meant to the world.
What makes Yesterday such an enjoyable watch is definitely the performances from Patel and James as their chemistry is wonderful and Patel is absolute joy. Seeing Patel attempt to remember the lyrics of songs, getting frustrated when people don’t appreciate or realize that he’s singing some of the best songs ever written, and constantly trying to keep everything as it was when The Beatles were around came off as genuine. Patel’s performance always made Jack’s conflict real because he has good intentions but has so much knowledge and power that he isn’t really sure what to do with it. It’s a true breakout performance that audiences will love, and he has this sense of passion that’s hard not to connect to. Not to mention, his singing is excellent and carries the heart and soul that I’d like to believe all The Beatles would be proud to see.
Even Jack’s relationship with Ellie is really fun to see and pretty emotional at times thanks to Patel and James’ great chemistry. It’s nice to see James also bring a very genuine performance that’s create a lot of great scenes between her and Patel. Their relationship is definitely one of the stronger parts of the film because of how easy it was to emotionally connect to it. However, there were times where I wish the focus wasn’t as strong as it was because of how much it diverted attention from the film’s intriguing premise.
Honestly, Yesterday’s premise might be the most intriguing of the year as it raises a lot of interesting questions about The Beatles and their impact. It’s interesting to see some of the risks taken here to create a world where the band never formed. With certain aspects and ideas also not ever coming into existence and even some of their iconic moments and images are not being appreciated because people aren’t aware of how special they are, there’s a lot that left me to think about with how much The Beatles have impacted kind of everything. Even how the film revisited locations, songs, and styles is kind of thought-provoking and Yesterday ends up being a relatively interesting trip down memory lane and Abbey Road. Not to mention, there’s an epically surprising moment that was truly emotional and something that fans will easily remember from watching Yesterday.
Unfortunately, this premise is where Yesterday pretty much ruins itself as it literally lives and mostly dies because of how it creates two central problems. The first is that it really only scratches the surface of what could’ve been explored with its parallel universe rules. For a film that pretty much states that if The Beatles didn’t exist, a lot would be different, we really don’t see that much change. Sure, the fact that things like Coca-Cola and cigarettes never existing isn’t small, but people don’t seem that different. You would think that the music of the Beatles and even the inspiration that was set by John Lennon for a more peaceful world would create a drastic change in the mindsets of people, but that’s never really the case. Even the way the film depicts the music industry doesn’t feel unique and is headed by a music manager that features a Kate McKinnon performance that’s trying way too hard and just doesn’t belong here.
The second issue stemmed from its exclamation of things like Coca-Cola and cigarettes never existing as this literally makes no sense. These things existed long before The Beatles were even born and since the film never explained or went deep enough into why they now don’t exist, it creates some confusing moments. This is the kind of story that can actually build some solid lore into and I think attempted to with some moments that delve into Jack’s sole knowledge of the band’s existence. However, when Jack realized that something didn’t exist, instead of him thinking of why that might be or how the band connected to it, the film just used these moments to make audiences laugh with a quick google search that had me laughing in the moment, but now has me scratching my head. The references the film made also didn’t connect with me because they were so obscure and strange that I was only shocked because I was so confused. The more I actually thought about Jack’s journey and realizations about The Beatles impact, the more I realized how the film constantly uses its comedy to gloss over things that don’t make sense and that doesn’t sit well with me.
Honestly, what bugged me more than anything is that Yesterday forgets what made everything about The Beatles so impactful and influential as artists. They’ve created songs that stuck with generations, impacted people to look within themselves and each other more, and inspired others to just be better people. Yesterday only touches on this slightly and comes off as a generic cycling of their greatest hits. The only thing Yesterday impacted and influenced me to do is hope that this premise can be remade into a film that wants to really delve into what The Beatles really meant and take every risk and opportunity to be different just like they were.
Yesterday is the kind of film that just wants to live in the moment so that viewers can laugh and love the performances from Patel and James and reignite their nostalgic love of Beatles classics. However, with time, it’s easy to recognize the film’s catastrophic faults that stem from its premise that’s a truly missed opportunity. Instead of living up to the Beatles classic that it’s named after, Yesterday ends up being just another summer feel-good flick that provides limited-time joy. Also, if you’re interested in another film that showcases some of The Beatles’ best, do a quick search for Across the Universe as it’s a film that’s much more unique than what you’ll find here.