Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie. After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. Performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them, Jack becomes an overnight sensation with a little help from his agent.
In a world where Hollywood keeps pumping out so-so musician biopics, director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting) delivers a not-so-traditional take on the most popular rock band of all time. Instead of playing by the book like its predecessors (I’m looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody), Boyle comes up with a story that pays homage to The Beatles but in an alternate universe where they do not even exist. It is a pretty striking decision with a lot of possible risks but did it at least strike the right chord?
Let’s talk about the two main actors: Himesh Patel who stars in the lead role Jack Malik; and Lily James who plays as Ellie, Jack’s best friend and manager. I thought Patel did an excellent job at portraying a character who was down in the dumps and ready to give up on his dreams of becoming a famous singer before his luck turned around. Also, that boy can SING and I liked his personal spin on some of The Beatles’ most iconic songs. As for James, I loved her performance of a loyal best friend who Jack can always count on as his number one fan. Not only have they known each other since they were little kids and now work together as business partners, but there is also a hint of a budding romance. The chemistry between the two was palpable enough to make you want the best for them and it truly shows when Jack’s rise to fame comes at the cost of potentially losing Ellie. The fact that I was frustrated at times whenever Jack or Ellie made a stupid decision and took two steps backward instead of progressing forwards tells me that I was really invested in their relationship. The supporting cast was also pretty energetic – we have Kate McKinnon as Deborah, Jack’s extremely controlling agent; Joel Fry as Rocky, Jack’s bumbling but lively tour assistant; and even Ed Sheeran as himself!
Though the acting was passable at best, I wish the same could be said about the screenplay. It was as if Yesterday did not know what kind of film it wanted to be. You have this fantasy comedy that flounders with some of the comedic timing and it tries to juggle this other romantic storyline. Because it had issues with committing to two different types of stories all the way through, I thought there were moments that were underutilized and did not reach its full potential. Because of that, it also felt lackluster and too slow-paced. I honestly believe it dragged out too often for a 2-hour film. One thing it did get right, however, was the conversation it brought up with how different the music world works today compared to 60 years ago when The Beatles formed. It was compelling to see how gimmicky and “trendy” record labels can be instead of focusing on what really matters: the music itself.
One of my biggest takeaways while watching Yesterday was the interesting cinematography. Visually, I would say it definitely made some bold choices. While several shots were positioned symmetrically that would satisfy anyone’s OCD, there were also a number of Dutch angles that I am not sure I was a big fan of. Traditionally, these kinds of shots are supposed to express a protagonist’s disorientation and anxiety and in my opinion, the use of Dutch angles in this movie did not always fit that purpose. Besides that, I liked the way Yesterday was shot and would consider it as one of the best parts of the movie.
To be honest, I still don’t know how to feel about this movie. I mean, it WAS a very charming movie. I don’t think anyone will walk out it feeling majorly disappointed. I just felt that Yesterday had a lot of potential but it slightly missed the mark. It is not going to be the greatest hit this summer but if you are a Beatles fan, I would still recommend giving it a watch!
My score: ★★★½/5
Yesterday will be coming to theaters Friday, June 28.
probably at the movies.