- 05 Jul 19
A world without The Beatles is still a world with charm and fun - if a little less depth.
Written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle, this high-concept musical fairytale might be one of cinema’s greatest representations of imposter syndrome. When failed musician Jack (Himesh Patel) wakes up after a worldwide blackout to find an alternate reality where The Beatles have never existed, he passes their songs off as his own and becomes a superstar. Will he be found out? Will it be revealed that his greatest work is actually a pale imitation of someone else’s? All that’s missing is an exam he’s late for, and Yesterday would be a literal anxiety-ridden nightmare.
Yesterday does play with some of these ideas, but there’s plenty of effusive, enjoyable comedic entanglements to keep the tone light. Jack understandably struggles to remember the lyrics to ‘Eleanor Rigby’; and his parents keep interrupting the song they continually call ‘Leave It Be’. But when he finally becomes a superstar – a classic fish out of water story elevated by Kate McKinnon’s ruthless LA manager, and Ed Sheeran’s gameful turn as himself – the weight of the lie begins to feel mammoth.
A romantic subplot with best friend Ellie (Lily James) proves quite weak – James is too beautiful to be believable as the overlooked friend Jack never saw clearly, and their chemistry is sweet rather than sizzling. There’s also a lack of depth when it comes to exploring what a world without The Beatles looks like – what happens when a hole is ripped in the cultural fabric? How are music and pop culture different without their influence? What does Ferris Bueller dance to?
But Patel’s Jack is charming and earnest and fumbling, and his covers of The Beatles’ hits are a fun, nostalgic, toe-tapping reminder of how sublime they were. Curtis’ sweet, occasionally sentimental screenplay also earnestly celebrates more humble but still impactful professions like teaching. After all, fame fades. But music, passion and love last.