“Yesterday”

 

            If you're a fan of Beatles music at all, the movie “Yesterday” is just plain fun.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer/songwriter who plays whatever gigs he can, and has for the last 10 years.  He quit his job as a teacher in order to concentrate on his music, but well, his part-time job stocking shelves is hardly a career.  At least he still has his manager, Ellie (Lily James), who did keep her job as a teacher, but she's always encouraging him and faithfully attends all his one-man shows, even when she has to drop him off late to ride his bicycle home (he still lives with his parents).

            Then one night a very strange thing happens----all the lights in the world go out at once.  For 12 seconds.  It's a phenomenon no one can explain.  It also causes Jack to get knocked off his bike, and wind up in the hospital with two front teeth missing and a huge headache.  But something else happened during those 12 seconds---the collective cultural memory of the Beatles is wiped out.  No one has ever heard of them, and no one knows any of their songs.  Jack is flabbergasted.  He believes strongly that the Beatles music deserves to be heard, and so he begins playing it in public, and the positive reception is immediate.

            Jack is torn, because he's always wanted to make it as a musician, but he never envisioned this.  He continues to crank out the Beatles songs, and the public continues to respond.  Even a “real life” famous singer/songwriter, Ed Sheeran, touts Jack Malik as a musical genius.  Jack Malik immediately goes on tour and becomes famous, but it's bittersweet.  Not only does he know he's a fraud, he also is leaving behind Ellie, and the more he's away from her, the more he misses her.

            Director Danny Boyle plays the tensions well.  Jack and Ellie never quite seem to find the right words, or the right occasion, to express how they feel about each other.  Jack is delighted to be on stage, singing to adoring audiences, even though he knows he's falsely implying authorship.  He tells himself that it's important that the world knows the music, and he has to be the messenger.  He even insists on a pilgrimage to Liverpool, checking out Penny Lane, and identifying Eleanor Rigby's gravestone.

            To keep it all in a lighthearted vein, there are various other random things that Jack discovers are also “lost” in those 12 seconds----like Coca-Cola.  And Harry Potter.  And cigarettes.  This bit of playfulness opens up a whole avenue of post-viewing conversation:  “What would it be like if the world had never heard of.....?”

            Himesh Patel is musically talented enough to deliver Beatles songs credibly.  It's happy music, and it's a pleasure to hear it done well, even in snippets and clips.  Sure, the premise is whimsical, but it's all in fun, even the shading with the more serious moments.  If you're a fan of the music of The Beatles, you'll enjoy the movie “Yesterday.”

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association