‘Yesterday’ imagines a world without The Beatles, but otherwise lacks creativity.
Kernel Rating: 2 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This drama questions what would happen in our world if The Beatles, as a group, ceased to exist. The movie includes a collision between a bus and a bicycle that injures the rider, knocking out his two front teeth; his wounds are mocked by his friends. The protagonist is often ridiculed and insulted for his looks, weight, and overall appearance. There is some cursing; flirting, kissing, male shirtlessness, and an implied sex scene; characters drink to drunkenness; and there are some jokes about drinking and drug use.
By Roxana Hadadi
The “What if?” scenario is a popular one for movies: What if you went back in time and almost erased your whole family? What if the Axis powers had won World War II? What if the Avengers hadn’t won against any of their foes? The possibility of an entirely different reality opens up a new world of storytelling possibilities, but not in “Yesterday,” which wonders “What if The Beatles didn’t exist?” and uses it to tell a disappointingly familiar story about falling in love.
“Yesterday” follows the trend of “Rocketman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in revisiting classic rock music and putting it on the big screen; numerous Beatles tracks are featured in the film, from the titular “Yesterday” to “Here Comes the Sun” to “Hey Jude” to “Let It Be” to “Back in the USSR.” For Beatles fans, seeing the songs take on new life might be an amusing diversion. But “Yesterday” is so slavish in its devotion to the group that it doesn’t do much else.
The film follows strugging musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), who for years has tried to make it big with his songs and his guitar. Although his best friend and manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James) has believed in his talent since they were 7 years old, Jack has never reached the next level of fame; he works at a big-box store and plays at pubs and on street corners, but that’s it. He finally decides to quit music, but then something inexplicable happens: Across the world, power everywhere goes out for a few minutes, and when it comes back, Jack has gotten in an accident on his bike — but more importantly, no one remembers who The Beatles were except for him.
Not “Penny Lane,” not “Strawberry Fields Forever,” not “Eleanor Rigby” — so Jack decides to pretend the songs are his own creation. Passing the Beatles songs off as his own not only draws the attention of pop star Ed Sheeran (who appears in the film as himself), but of Ed’s manager Debra (Kate McKinnon). Suddenly all these people believe in Jack’s talent, but what of Ellie, who had faith in him all along? Is there a place for her in Jack’s life now that he’s heralded as the most important and famous pop star of all time?
You have to set aside a lot of disbelief for “Yesterday,” and of course, all movies require this, especially films that consider alternate realities. But the film from writers Jack Barth and Richard Curtis picks and chooses elements of The Beatles’ backstory to include in the script, and what they include or omit raises more questions. Were the members of The Beatles never born, or did they just never form a band? For people who saw The Beatles in concert, are their memories totally wiped? What do they remember, or what experiences do they remember in place of The Beatles? The movie doesn’t consider any of the mechanics of its own plot, and that is frustrating given that the only purpose of the film seems to be, “Hey, remember The Beatles? Weren’t they great!”
That surface-level narrative is also irritating because the movie’s other primary plot — the relationship between Jack and Ellie, and whether they will or won’t fall in love — totally does not need The Beatles angle to be successful. If Jack had simply hit it big on his own, this romance could have been built just as well, but the movie has a strange relationship to Jack, constantly ridiculing him, calling him a failure, mocking his looks, and overall acting as if his dreams for himself were embarrassing. Instead of telling an emotionally resonant story or building layered characters, “Yesterday” wants the easy humor of poking fun at how people don’t remember The Beatles and the nostalgia of playing all the band’s songs. Only for diehard fans of the band will this superficial thought experiment really be enjoyable.
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