YESTERDAY (2019) is a tough movie to judge, an odd mix of strength and weakness, which I overall liked for its charm and love letter to the Beatles, though it didn’t live up to its engaging premise and fell flat at the end with its typical Hollywood reach for convenience.
Directed by Danny Boyle, YESTERDAY begins with Jack Malik (played with great sympathy by Himesh Patel), a struggling British musician whose only real fan appears to be Ellie (Lily James), his manager. Realizing he’s at a dead end and may not be good enough to go further than where he is, Jack is about to hang it up when a mysterious global event occurs. When it’s over, Jack appears to be in an alternate reality in which the Beatles (along with other things) never happened. When he plays a few of their songs, he suddenly finds himself with a music career, but his stardom comes with impostor syndrome, as his own songs get rejected and only his Beatles songs become loved.
There are elements of this film I really liked, kind of liked, and didn’t like much at all. The elements I really liked were the love and puppyish enthusiasm for the Beatles and Jack’s rise to stardom. These scenes really shine and invite viewers to experience the Beatles’ most popular songs as if for the first time. There are some interesting ideas explored, such as would the Beatles be instantly accepted today as a great band, or were they a product of their time? There’s great comedic scene of Jack playing an iconic song in a coffeehouse in which nobody is paying attention. Some reviewers lamented the film didn’t go deeper into these ideas, but I was okay with their treatment. The film wasn’t about that but instead Jack’s artistic struggle with wanting to bring these songs to the world but feeling like a fraud doing it.
One element I kind of liked was the romantic tension between Jack and Ellie. They have real chemistry, though they end up at odds in Hollywood nonsensical-if-convenient fashion, suddenly turning the film into a typical rom-com. Another is Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of the greedy music industry executive, who talks with complete honesty that comes across for a while as hilarious but quickly gets tired and grating. The main element I didn’t like at all was the conclusion, which wrapped everything in a cathartic moment that didn’t really make sense, and allowed every plot problem to easily and conveniently unravel. Part of the problem, I think, was Jack is thoroughly likeable and sympathetic throughout, so while he may correct a misbelief (which is entirely justifiable, given the circumstances), he doesn’t really undergo any real change, and his correcting the misbelief reaps him great reward but no real consequences. For a fantastic indie film about music and creativity in which the character undergoes a very real and fundamental change, check out the wonderful film FRANK.
So in the end, I liked YESTERDAY–I liked it a lot, in fact, from the great acting to the wonderful direction and music–but it lacked cohesion and could have been great if it didn’t jury-rig key elements of the movie seemingly in typical Hollywood pandering.