Yesterday (2019): An Exercise in Frustration

I really wanted this to be good. Not even great, just good. Danny Boyle, Beatles songs, what’s not to love? Instead I got a movie that delivers nothing but half promises. Yesterday is about Jack, a struggling musician who gets hit by a bus on his way home. Right as the power goes out across the world. When he comes to, Jack learns that he is the only one who can remember the Beatles songs. He goes on to “write” all the Beatles songs and earn worldwide fame. Spoilers ahead.

Yesterday can’t decide if it wants to be a story about an alternate world or a romantic dramedy. You may ask, why not be both? Well the final product is exactly why. Focusing on one story line and having the other be an inclusion would have been better. For a while it seems as those this movie is going to be primarily about Jack becoming the next great musician (I liked the running joke of him not remembering the words to Elanor Rigby, but then the resolution comes too fast).

By the midpoint we suddenly learn that Ellie has had a crush on Jack her whole life and now that he is famous, she is tired of waiting and decides to move on. Ellie’s attraction to Jack turns on a dime. Until that point, they had been presented as just friends. Ellie even has a line that is along the lines of “nope! We have never slept together,” early in the movie. So why is she in love?

By this point in the movie I’m thinking, “Am I aromantic, or is this a really bad love story?” Of course, Jack makes a big romantic gesture to win back the girl and years later they are married and happy. I wish more movies could have leading female characters who aren’t required to marry the protagonist by the end of it.

The whole premise of the movie is that the world slips into a Mandel Effect world where things are suddenly gone or different. To the film’s credit they do some fun things with this, we get the most Pepsi product placement in a Danny Boyle film since 28 Days Later all because Coca-Cola never existed. But that seems like a grim dystopia where only one cola soda exists. Or does RC Cola get served in fast food chains instead? Yesterday tries to have fun with the premise, yet treat it as a backdrop. You can’t make a world that is almost identical to ours and have cigarettes never exist! That would cause such a ripple effect. Speaking of ripple effects; what about all the bands being influenced by the Beatles never existing or having completely different styles in this world?

Yesterday barely touches upon of how different a world without the Beatles would be. They already have a fantastical premise, why not have the world be a more miserable place without the Beatles and how much people connect with the music when Jack starts performing it? I would call myself a fan of the Beatles, not something you often hear from a millennial, and I felt so disappointed with the Beatles content. It’s all cover songs that sometimes barely connect with the plotline. I would highly recommend renting A Hard Day’s Night or Yellow Submarine if you want a good Beatles movie.

I can give this movie props for its creative visual styles that pop up throughout. However, this is mostly limited to how song titles or names of locations appear on the screen. There is some variety to the angles of shots, but the movie feels devoid of creativity. As though the filmmakers had too much influence by the studio. The humor of Yesterday was the strongest part for me. The buddy character Rocky was good comic relief. He had some lines that I laughed out loud at and I found it refreshing that he wasn’t a large influence on the plot. He was just there to keep the spirits up even in the downer moments.

Jack is likely the most problematic part of the movie. Himesh Patel certainly can perform, both with acting and singing and I look forward to seeing him in other projects. But the character is terrible. If it weren’t for a few lines early in the movie you wouldn’t know he is a big Beatles fan; but the lines are just quotes from songs. His whole adventure is him stumbling through success and not knowing how to deal with any of it. He never strikes me as being greedy and wanting the fame and glory, but he is barely presented as someone who cares about preserving the songs.

I’m taking a hard pass on recommending Yesterday. This is something you can watch on Netflix for date night and not really care what is going on and the next morning think “that was fine.” Never watching it again and only remembering the flick exists when a friend brings it up in conversation. Replying with, “Oh yeah, the covers were good. I liked it.” I wish I had enjoyed this movie; the film’s premise is pretty original and really breaks up the monotony of “Summergedon Sequels, Franchises, and Reboots 2019.” Sadly, it brings almost nothing to the table. Yesterday presents original and complex ideas, and makes no attempt to do anything original or complex with them.

Rating: D-

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