Yesterday movie cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Joel Fry, Ed Sheeran
Yesterday movie director: Danny Boyle
Yesterday movie rating: 3 stars
What if the Beatles were one of us? Really, a slob like one of us. Brown, mildly talented, living with endearing but irritating parents, and as McKinnon’s exaggerated American agent puts it, someone who can be bafflingly “skinny but round at the same time”.
Director Danny Boyle and co-scriptwriter Richard Curtis, with many a crowd-pleaser film between them, present an interesting subversion here. One night, as Jack (Patel) is returning from yet another failed singing gig, and has just told his amazingly supportive manager (James) that he is calling it quits, there is a solar flare, a global blackout, and an accident. When Jack comes to his senses, it’s with two teeth missing and to a world with no memory of the Beatles. It’s only he who remembers one of the world’s greatest singing sensations and the songs that got them there.
As Jack strums those numbers, everyone believes it is he who is writing and setting music to them, rendering him an overnight sensation. So one of Britain’s most famous contributions to the world now is a desi lad with curly hair, paunchy middle, Malik for surname and Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar of The Kumars at No. 42 (as good as ever, answering a constantly ringing doorbell still) for parents.
Boyle, thankfully, doesn’t take the Slumdog Millionaire route, neither is Yesterday about race etcetera. Jack is just another Paul, John, George or Ringo in this world, surrounded by normal friends and a normal life. Curtis and co-writer Jack Barth keep the film light, easy and fun, with of course great music to keep it all rolling.
However, they never make it to the next level. Beyond the Beatles and a loving ode to them, what is Yesterday about? It doesn’t turn out, sadly, about whether music can indeed surmount all boundaries of looks, race, nationality, and colour. It hints but doesn’t explore what would happen should the Beatles debut now, with the millennials, their micro attention spans, and the marketing. It is not about Britain’s whole-hearted acceptance of its largest and fastest-rising immigrant population. And it’s not about, finally, even life after fame.
What it turns out to be is an improbable love story, with a girl like James pining openly for a boy like Jack, and he barely responding. Till he even more improbably does. While both Patel, who does a good rendition of the Beatles hits, and James are convincing and likable individually, and even have a good friendly vibe, their romantic scenes are awkward, even cringy — though even cringier is a surprise cameo right at the end.
Still, Yesterday does give us Ed Sheeran playing Ed Sheeran, who sportingly sings a number and lets Jack get all the applause. That, plus the Beatles, plus some appealing actors (bar McKinnon, tragically), plus the alluring thought of whether Jack can remember all the lyrics of all the Beatles hits (particularly and hilariously of Elenaor Rigby), given that all traces of the songs have been wiped clean, may make you say, let it be.