Yesterday (2019) Review
A MAGICAL “WHAT IF” MYSTERY TOUR FLUFF
The English rock band “The Beatles” have been stuff of musical legends. Spanning nearly a decade, the group (i.e. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison) certainly defined “the 60s” within their catalogue of recorded songs; speaking to an entire generation and the world within its various complexities of war and peace. The whole 60s “British Invasion” in the US was spearheaded by the Beatles and certainly took the US of A by storm with their now iconic / memorable songs. Heck, the Beatles (all of them) starred in a feature film in 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night. Even in today’s world, the legacy of the Beatles has endured the various genre trends of the passing decades and has established an everlasting legacy as icons in the music industry. It’s no wonder why many have called them the “best selling band in history”. Now, Universal Pictures and director Danny Boyle presents an interesting take on the Beatles music with the film titled Yesterday. Does this movie pay homage to the famous band’s now famous music or does it the movie flounder within its’ bizarre “what if” scenario?
In the remote town of Lowestoft, England, Jack Mallik (Himesh Patel) is struggling to make his singing / songwriting dream a reality, often playing to at smaller venues to nearly empty rooms attendees while his longtime friend / manager, Ellie Appleton (Lily James), remains his biggest fan of his music. Standing on the brink of quitting his dream and moving on with his life as a teacher, Jack is struck by a bus while riding his bike. At the same time, a global blackout occurs that lasts for 12 seconds. Coming out from the hospital with a gifted guitar, Jack decides to christen the instrument with a song from the Beatles. However, everyone is amazed by the song, with no clue on who the Beatles are. Jack soon realizes that nobody knows about the band nor their songs, with their entire history erased (as if they never existed at all), leaving the young struggling man with a potential for greatness if he passes off the group’s iconic songs as his own. Gradually becoming an overnight sensation artist, Jack’s journey to stardom is groomed by musical artist Ed Sheeran and L.A. manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) to the next “big thing” in the industry, which draws him away from Ellie and the unspoken romance they have with each other and deepens his ethical choice of what’s he’s doing.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While the 60s era of music was way before “my time” (born in the mid-80s), the Beatles music (to me) have been iconic within a variety of people and spanning multiple generations of humans (both young and old). While I initially heard about “the Beatles” during my middle school years, I was never truly a massive fan of theirs. Of course, I liked their songs, but wasn’t “in love” with them. My personal favorite songs by them are “Hey, Jude” and “Come Together”. However, that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the band’s efforts and the music that they made, which literally has been reposted, reused, and rebranded throughout the years in almost everything. Perhaps my favorite “compilation” of their music (and with my love of movies) is in 2007’s Across the Universe. Yes, the movie was a bit bizarre at times, but it definitely worked within the narrative storyline being told as well as highlighting the Beatles popular songs. Thus, in the end, it really goes to show that the Beatles have really “transcended” the musical years, with many of their songs still being played and remembered by millions.
Naturally, this brings up talking about the 2019 film Yesterday, which is a feature film that highlights many of the Beatles iconic songs within a motion picture storytelling endeavor. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much “buzz” about this movie online, so it was quite surprised when I first saw the movie trailer for the film in theaters. Oh, boy, did I see the movie trailers…. almost every time I went to my local movie theater. It was previewed it almost every movie from PG to R. So, despite not much internet hype about the film (during its announcement pre-release), Yesterday was practically “ingrained” in my mind. Thus, it was almost a forgone conclusion that I was gonna see the film during its opening weekend. To be even more honest, judging from the movie trailer alone, it looked like a “feel good” movie; utilizing the Beatles songs as a way to the tell this “what if” scenario in an amusing and musical way. So, what did I think of it? Well, it’s somewhere in-between everything. Yesterday has a fun setup concept and is definitely musically charged with plenty of Beatles tunes, but lack depth / substance within its storytelling, which weigh the film down. It’s cinematic lightheartedness fluff at best, but there’s a bit of “missed opportunity” and unanswered ponderings left by the time Yesterday reaches its ending.
Yesterday is directed Danny Boyle, whose previous directorial works includes films like Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and Steve Jobs. Judging from his wide range of past endeavors (i.e. from sci-fi, to horror, to biopics, to even orchestrating / directing the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics), Boyle has really done it all and seems like suitable choice to tackle a movie project like Yesterday. In truth, Boyle approach to this movie feels very much like several of his past works by making this movie feel like a “indie” film. It’s kind of hard to say what that means, but it’s way that Boyle directs and how he shapes the feature, which he does with Yesterday; making the movie have the indie nuance and feeling throughout the runtime. To me, this is a good thing and it actually benefits the film by having this aspect run throughout Yesterday’s presentation. Thus, the staging of events, sequences, and character moments are matched equally within Boyle’s directorial talents, which does make Yesterday have a certain charm to its entertainment and is offered as a harmless “feel good” endeavor.
The film’s script, which was credited to Richard Curtis with a story by Curtis and Jack Barth, is very simplistic nature and does play up the main scenario (i.e. what if the Beatles music never existed) as the story’s plot device. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s somewhat of a “double edge” sword duality (more on that below). Still, the whole “what if” scenario of Yesterday is quite amusing and does showcase the ethical choice of what person should (or should not do) if he / she took another person’s art (in this case…. musical songs) and passed it over as their own. Would a person feel remorse for that decision or overlooked it for the fame? It’s quite easy to see where Yesterday’s stance on that viewpoint will ultimately end up, but it is still a good storytelling device nonetheless. As a side-angle, the film’s script also shows the quick rise to stardom and the dealings with managers and image consultants on changing an artist outward appearance to match with the public’s appeal. Again, this idea has been done many times before, but it is still fundamental aspect worth talking about in both the artist himself in the cooperate “mindset” of the music industry.
Naturally, touting around the idea of the Beatles music, Yesterday definitely does showcase a lot of the iconic and popular songs from the group. So, if you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth of hearing some of my favorites being played throughout the film. Of course, not every song from the Beatles is mentioned / played in the film, but most of their “best hits” are showcased in the feature.
Much like what I said above, Yesterday feels very much like a “indie” movie and does somewhat feel like within its technical presentation….and that’s kind of a good thing. Given Boyle’s past features (if you look at some of them), the director keeps the film “grounded” in a more smaller scale endeavor, despite the story going “big” at various points. Even still, the overall presentation of Yesterday is what I would call a large-scale “indie” film endeavor, with the feature given off that indie feel (again, much to Boyle’s credit), but still has enough sense to make the story being told big. Thus, the movie’s “behind the scenes” team, including Patrick Rolfe (production designs), Cathy Cosgrove / Naomi Leigh (set decorations), and Christopher Ross (cinematography) are all well-represented in the movie, which do strengthen Yesterday’s appeal. Additionally, while the feature is chock full of Beatles songs, the score, which was composed by Daniel Pemberton, is also very much “in-line” the film’s gentle / upbeat tone throughout (again, another positive).
There are several criticism points that I have with Yesterday, which do weigh the movie down and failing to reach the lofty cinematic aspirations that it wants to be. Perhaps the one that’s most prevalent (to all) is in its overall formulaic predictability. Just seeing the film’s movie trailer, I could easily tell what was gonna happen from the very start to trouble times ahead for the character Jack Mallik (i.e. his rises to stardom and the pitfalls of that rise) and how it would all end up. Although, there was one aspect that I didn’t expect towards the film’s ending, but I won’t spoil it. Still, even looking back that minor point, Yesterday’s story progression is as predictable as it comes and has been done many times before in similar “what if” scenario driven features. To be honest, Yesterday’s script is somewhat half-baked and is never fully realized upon that initial concept plight of Jack taking credit for creating all the Beatles songs that he presents to the world. Furthermore, this whole idea of the movie (a world without the Beatles songs) seems like something out of TV sitcom episode than a feature film, which does make Yesterday lack the necessary substance to make the movie wholesome. Even Boyle’s directorial hands to shape and guide the film can’t save the formulaic nature of it all. The film’s runtime, which is almost two hours (116 minutes to be exact) feels very long and really could’ve been trimmed down a good ten or fifteen minutes and still come away with the exact same movie’s tale being told. Thus, the entire concept of the Yesterday’s story / plot, while genuinely fun and amusing, lacks depth and doesn’t have much going for it.
Another criticism (as a somewhat large plot hole / confusing aspect at the same time) is that the movie never addresses that fundamental point of why the Beatles songs are so popular when character Jack Mallik presents them to masses in this alternative reality world. Of course, this heavily relies on the universal fandom of the Beatles music as well as the whole “what if” scenario that Yesterday’s narrative hinges on. However, why is it? Why is the Beatles music (in this movie world) treated with such praise and popularity? With the film’s time-period setting in today’s current world of musical artists like Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and Cardi B (of which the movie references), it really begs the question (in a perplexing way) that why the music by the Beatles is so popular in the 20th century? Yes, it worked quite well in the 60s (again, defining an era), but Yesterday’s alternative reality world goes crazy for it and its never explain why? How would the Beatles music (if it was never released in during the 60s) would compare against today’s musical arena of rap, country, EDM, and pop songs? Judging the musical landscape variety and with the current pop-culture trends…. I would say not good and merely overlooked. The movie even makes a few “jabs” at this concept idea (i.e. over the Beatle’s album names and songs, etc.). This really goes back to Curtis / Barth’s script for the film, which never fully fleshes out the details on this particular aspect as well as several other ones. What if the (in this movie’s alternative reality) no one likes the Beatles music? I know, I know… I might be overthinking this a bit, but we (the viewers) have to take the gimmicky premise as face value with no depth in the “whithertos and whyfors” of the film’s cinematic world and how it all operates.
The cast of the Yesterday has a few recognizable names within the various characters that populate the feature and almost every actor / actress casted in the film does offer up their acting talents in good way. The downside is that the movie (and by extension the script) never fully develops some of these characters beyond their initial introduction / setup. At the head of the film is actor Himesh Patel, who plays Yesterday’s main protagonist character of Jack Mallik. Patel, known for his roles in EastEnders, Damned, and The Luminaries, does actually do a good job in the movie’s lead role; handling the weight of the film on his shoulder and does come out on top (in the end). Plus, it also helps that Patel does actually sing (and quite well mind you), which does aid in the film’s positives category of hearing all the Beatles songs throughout. The problem, however, is not with Patel’s acting, but rather his character build. It’s good, but quite predictable and has been done many times over, with Yesterday’s Jack Mallik bringing nothing new to the table. Still, Patel is perfectly fine as Jack.
Likewise, actress Lily James (Downton Abbey and Cinderella) provides to be an effective turn as the classic best friend / lover to the main character in Yesterday’s character Ellie Appleton. However, the movie doesn’t offer much insight beyond that setup build for Ellie, which makes the character pretty stereotypical from start to finish. Of course, James’s acting talents help elevate that slightly, but that doesn’t make Ellie anymore well-rounded than just a love interest supporting player in the film. Thankfully, Patel and James do have chemistry with each other, but the love angle between Jack and Ellie seems rather formulaic and clunky. Thus, these two characters (both strengths and weaknesses) go hand-in-hand with the acting talents shining in generic characters builds.
There are a few supporting players in Yesterday that do make a somewhat memorable performances in their respective characters. The character of Rocky (Jack’s slightly dimwitted road manager) acts as the feature’s comic relief character, with actor Joel Fry (Game of Thrones and 10,000 B.C.) certainly selling the particular character model perfectly well. Speaking of comedy, comedian actress Kate McKinnon (Office Christmas Party and Saturday Night Live) plays the character of Debra Hammer (Jack’s big-time music manager) and has the way of making her performance amusing in a quasi-comically / vile way. Of course, McKinnon does play it up a bit “over the top” (a variation of cooperate / industry managers clichés), but it definitely works and fits within the movie’s presentation. Lastly, in a minor supporting role in the movie, musician artist Ed Sheeran is featured in the film (playing himself, of course) and certainly does a “charm”. Personally, I’ve always liked him (and his music) and it’s quite fun to see him playing himself in Yesterday. Much Patel and James, these characters (as well as the several other ones that I didn’t mentioned) are great in their respect of being acted by their theatrical counterparts, but are a supporting “caricatures” on their own characteristic onsets. Definitely could’ve been a little bit more “fleshed out” in certain parts here and there.
A world without the Beatles’s iconic songs and the strange predicament that befalls character Jack Mallik in the movie Yesterday. Director Danny Boyle’s latest film plays up the magical “what if” scenario in a cinematic take on a “world without the Beatles” with enough whimsical charm in its undertaking. Though it’s a bit half-baked and plays more of episodic plotline from a TV sitcom than a well-rounded feature film endeavor, the movie still has likeable nuances (lighthearted, sweet, catchy songs, and endearing chemistry between its two leads) to make it for an entertaining fluff picture. To me, it wasn’t super fantastically great, but it’s still decently good to make for a viewing experience enjoyable. Still, in terms of Beatles music within a theatrical feature, I would prefer Across the Universe versus Yesterday. Thus, my recommendation for this film would be a favorable “rent it” (no need to “rush to see it” in theaters) and it will probably be on every TV channel in about a year or so (it’s that type of movie). In the end, Yesterday is one of those movies that somewhere in-between everything. It’s not bad, but neither is great. It’s not deplorable, but neither is it quite memorable. The songs in the film are truly great to hear, but the story is bit thin. Whatever the case is, Yesterday is a magical mystery tour in the “what if” scenario category that comes up as (for better or worse) harmless cinematic fluff.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: June 28th, 2019
Reviewed On: July 2nd, 2019
Yesterday is 116 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language